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19 Jun 2023

The long and the short of coffee’s health benefits

Food & Fluids

Those who say they are dying for a cup of coffee may, according to research, instead be reaping health benefits. All thanks to a discovery from an ancient goat herder. 

Drinking coffee every day may help lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, according to new research.

The report, published in Clinical Nutrition (the official journal of ESPEN, The European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism) in March 2023, found that having one additional cup of coffee each day was linked to a 4% to 6% lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Past research has associated coffee with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, but the mechanisms behind the beverage’s effects haven’t been well understood. Until now.

The new study, which measured various hormones and inflammatory markers in coffee drinkers, suggests this. That coffee may have anti-inflammatory effects along with reducing insulin resistance, lowering with a significant impact on hormones including leptin and adiponectin.

“Our finding suggests that caffeine might, at least in part, explain the inverse association between coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes,” write the researchers.

In another publication and based on her own findings, Dr Marilyn Tan, an endocrinologist and the chief of the United States-based Stanford University Endocrine Clinic, maintains that inflammation can increase insulin resistance and therefore one’s diabetes risk.

“The suggestion that coffee reduces inflammatory markers is helpful at understanding the mechanism by which coffee may improve insulin [sensitivity] or blood sugars,” she said.

Coffee and green and black tea are bursting with antioxidants, natural compounds that have been linked to a number of health benefits.

But the caffeine present in those beverages may also offer its own benefits, including reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, suggests a new genetic study. This is possibly due to the effect of caffeine on body fat and weight.

The results of the new study fit with other research suggesting a link between caffeine and type 2 diabetes risk in reducing body fat with excess weight being a factor.

Earlier studies showed that moderate coffee consumption (three to five cups per day with one cup being 118 ml coffee brewed using 148 ml of water) is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

However, these studies weren’t designed to differentiate the potential effects of caffeine from those of antioxidants. This was remedied by a clinical nutrition study (in Clinical Nutrition) that people who were genetically predisposed to have higher levels of caffeine in their blood were more likely to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and body fat.

In addition, they had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Researchers estimated that about half of the reduced diabetes risk was due to the lower BMI.

The cardiovascular outcomes they looked at included coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, and irregular heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation).

The study determined that people who carry the genetic variants associated with slower metabolism of caffeine drink less coffee, on average. However, they have higher levels of caffeine in their blood compared to people who metabolize caffeine more quickly.

Well grounded
New research suggests coffee and green and black tea may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

  • Specifically, the caffeine in those drinks and the effect it can have on body fat and weight, may be the reason for the reduced risk.
  • In addition to boosting metabolism, caffeine has a number of other potential health benefits, such as increasing alertness and concentration, enhancing exercise performance, and improving mood.
  • However, experts warn that consuming too much caffeine can also have negative effects, such as anxiety, insomnia, and jitteriness

Beloved beans
The earliest credible evidence of coffee drinking or knowledge of the coffee tree appears in the middle of the 15th century in the accounts of Ahmed al-Ghaffar in Yemen. It was in Yemen that coffee seeds were first roasted and brewed in a similar way to how it is prepared now. Coffee grown worldwide can trace its heritage back centuries to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau. There, legend says, the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans. The word “coffee” has roots in several languages. In Yemen it earned the name qahwah, which was originally a romantic term for wine. It later became the Turkish kahveh, then Dutch koffie and finally coffee in English. The modern version of roasted coffee originated in Arabia.

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Date Published: June 2023

To be reviewed: June 2026