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I was at a continuing education ...

Posted Jul 01 2009 6:38pm

I was at a continuing education seminar this weekend where treating inflammation was a key concept.  The speaker, a well respected practitioner  with over 25 years of clinical experience, mentioned a recent LA Times article conveying  recent claims that coffee is not bad for us, and that it may in fact be good in some situations.  I was right along with the rest of the crowd in a collective gasp of horror that such a travesty would be printed.  As holistic health practitioners we try our best to make sure that we have the knowledge and experience to help educate our clients on how to be well and stay healthy.  Coffee is at the  top of the “cut it out” list that many of us give to our patients, along with things like soda pop and cigarettes.

Well, it looks like I was wrong.  I decided to read the article for a blog entry; a blog entry that was supposed to back my current belief that coffee is bad for us and that it creates systemic inflammation that leads to all sorts of health problems.  The problem was, I could not find research that has come out in the last 3 years to support that.  In fact,  the research that came up in my pubMed “coffee and health” search, “coffee and cardiovascular disease” search, and “coffee and cancer” search lacked any evidence that coffee can be implicated in heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, early death, etc…  There was also research that showed that in some cases coffee actually decreased the likelihood of liver cancer and stroke.  I did manage to find one article that stated high coffee consumption increased the bad cholesterol (LDL) in women.

The LA Times article talks to Rob van Dam, “coffee researcher and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health”, who states that most of the older research is full of problems that wrongly implicate coffee in a myriad of disease processes.  (This is why I limited my search to only the last 3 years).  His actual review can be found on pubMed Here.

Not convinced?  Here are links to some other pubMed summaries to help you learn more:

Long term coffee consumption and metabolic syndrome

Coffee and stroke

Coffee and diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer

Coffee and cancer

Coffee and cardiovascular disease and heart valves in the elderly

Coffee and mortality relationship

Now, even with all of that said, there are a few considerations that need to be taken into account:

1) I did not look at the full text of the studies to see the methodology, so I make no claims as to the quality of the studies.

2)  The studies were not looking at the type of coffee most people purchase from the corner chain store which contain a host of other substances detrimental to health  like sugar, cream and flavorings.  These studies typically use good ol’ pressed black coffee.

3) This new (to me at least) information  is  another reminder that we need to remain open minded and flexible in light of new research, while remaining skeptical enough to look deeper and learn more.

4) The next obvious question for me  is “why did we assume coffee was so bad, and where were we wrong in incorporating that idea into our holistic health theory”?  Here is what I, and many other practitioners, have believed (or still believe):  that coffee has some innate property that causes inflammation, which is thought of as heat in oriental medicine.  The heat manifests as an increase in heart rate as one example; and can cause all manner of pathological problems. Why have I accepted that idea when the basic properties of coffee have always been staring me in the face:  bitter and astringent.  Both properties in oriental medicine can actually counter heat, while bitter helps resolve dampness (which can manifest as edema or pain for example) and the astringent property holds and protects vital energies and fluids.  It seems that even from the oriental medicine paradigm, coffee may be innately balanced.  However, there are still plenty of articles written by top  practitioners in my field that delve more deeply into the properties and side effects of coffee.  If they see problems associated with coffee consumption, then who is missing something, the conventional researchers or the oriental medical theorists?  Food for thought.

5) Where does this recent research fit into the long held holistic health belief that prolonged coffee use taxes the adrenals  which can lead to “adrenal exhaustion” (which has not been recognized by conventional medicine)?  That I think will be left to another thinker.

In the meantime, I’m going to go consider this new information over a cuppa joe.

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