Coffee Good for You

February 10/Singapore/The Straits Times -- Coffee can actually be good for you, says a new study of coffee drinkers here, the latest to challenge the belief that its benefits are murky.

The study of 3,000 people in Singapore discovered "no detrimental factor" to coffee drinking, and this was the case for all the races here.

The soon-to-be published findings follow studies elsewhere which have found that coffee drinking can be good for one's health, as it can lower the risk of diabetes.

Associate professor Rob van Dam of the National University of Singapore (NUS), who led the study, said there are sometimes different effects across ethnicities. "Ethnicity is of interest because there are marked differences in insulin resistance between different ethnic groups, even within Asia," he said.

According to earlier studies, Chinese and Japanese who drank several cups of coffee a day are known to face significantly lower risks of getting diabetes, compared to non-drinkers.

His study, part of the large Singapore Consortium of Cohort Studies funded by the Biomedical Research Council, found that coffee had the same effect on Chinese and non-Chinese drinkers here.

The finding, however, runs smack against one piece of prevailing wisdom -- that coffee can be bad for one's heart.

However, van Dam said this view has not been scientifically proven. He said only studies in Scandinavia have found links between coffee and a higher risk of heart disease. The reason appears to be in the way the coffee is prepared. Unlike coffee drinkers in the rest of Europe and the U.S., Scandinavians leave the coffee dregs in their pot, stewing at the bottom.

As a result, their coffee has a high dose of cafestol, a substance that increases cholesterol levels, and heart disease risk.

He was concerned that coffee sold at the kopitiam might have similar levels of cafestol, as it is made by pouring boiling water over ground coffee. However, laboratory tests of samples from various coffee shops found very low levels of cafestol.

This is likely due to the thick "sock" or cloth strainer that the ground coffee is left in when hot water is poured into the kopitiam kettle.

Cardiologist Tan Huay Cheem of the National University Hospital agreed that recent studies have shown that "coffee itself is neutral to the heart."

Many studies over the past decade have found strong links between drinking several cups of coffee a day and significantly lower risks of diabetes -- one of the more serious chronic ailments here.

Further, it does not matter what type of coffee is drunk: fresh brewed, instant or decaffeinated. The only exception is when coffee dregs are present.

U.S. studies have found that decaf coffee gives the same protection against diabetes; van Dam said this shows the benefits are not due to caffeine but to other compounds like chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant found mainly in coffee.

He said a seven-year study of 17,000 Dutch people found that those who drank seven cups or more of coffee a day were half as likely to get diabetes as those who drank two cups or less.

Another study in the U.S. of 90,000 women found the incidence of diabetes among those who drank four cups of coffee daily was half that of non-drinkers; van Dam, who was involved in that study before he joined NUS a year ago, noted that cups in the U.S. are larger than those in Europe.

While coffee might be good for the health, taking it with lashings of cream and sugar could negate any benefit. However, small helpings of these are fine, he added, as studies have found no difference between such coffee and taking it black.

Similarly, for those who get heart palpitations from drinking too much coffee, the answer is decaf, said van Dam.

Pregnant women should also go easy, drinking at most a cup a day, as caffeine is bad for the fetus.

Dr. Stanley Liew, an endocrinologist at Raffles Hospital who treats diabetics, said that such studies are merely observational studies. Scientists need to discover the mechanism involved first. Until then, he said, it would be premature to ask people to drink more coffee to prevent diabetes.

Indeed, van Dam agreed that there are better ways to avoid diabetes, such as exercising. However, he said with these studies, "We can tell people who like coffee to just enjoy their coffee. They don't have to be concerned about it."

From the February 14, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News
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