,500,000,000 cups a day! According to a recent estimate, that is how much coffee the world drinks. This vast consumption has persisted despite repeated warnings from scientists over the years that coffee drinkers face a virtual plethora of hazards, ranging from heart disease to diabetes and even various types of cancer. Why is it, then, that so few coffee drinkers have dropped their cups and run from the drink?
Over the past 40 years, scientists have published more than five hundred reports on the effects of coffee drinking. But so far their conclusions have been, well, inconclusive. Why? For one thing, coffee is more complex than it looks. A cup of coffee may contain as many as five hundred naturally occurring chemicals. Yet, most studies focus on just one ingredient, the stimulant caffeine.
In some people, caffeine can cause sleeplessness and irritability or make it difficult to concentrate. But what of cancer? The consumer magazine Which? reports: “For virtually every study demonstrating a possible link [between caffeine and cancer], there is another with contradictory findings.” Small wonder, then, that a London coffee analyst reports that among the general public, there has been “no sort of health move away from coffee at all.” Besides, many know that tea, cocoa, and cola drinks also contain caffeine. In fact, the magazine Which? notes that “weight for weight, tea contains more caffeine than coffee, but less weight is used, in general, to brew a cup of tea.”
Still, there are a few cautions that a coffee drinker may wish to note. The Times of London recently cited this finding from a Dutch report: “Coffee in which the boiling water and grounds are mixed directly can increase cholesterol levels by 10 per cent, compared with drinking filtered coffee or no coffee at all.” Cholesterol is a well-known contributor to heart disease. In another issue, The Times quoted a leading British nutritionist as saying: ‘Regular coffee drinkers should always have a fresh cup and avoid a stewed or boiled brew.’
If the experts agree on anything when it comes to coffee, it is moderation. Doctors generally recommend that people should drink no more than six cups (or four mugs) of coffee in a day. Those with such health problems as heart or kidney disease or high blood pressure should have less than that. And pregnant women or those who breast-feed their babies should have no more than one cup a day.