Health August 20, 2022 | 4:04 pm

Myths about coffee and wine that you may still think are true

Two of the most studied food substances for their effects on human health are coffee and red wine.

We are often bombarded with information about foods and substances that are supposedly beneficial for their “protective” health effects and “nutritional virtues.”

But the dietary advice and opinions we hear about many foods seem to change constantly.

And about these, we have been told, confusingly, that they can have “harmful” and “detrimental” or “beneficial” and “protective” impacts on our bodies.

What do the latest scientific studies say about these beverages? We consulted two scientists who have been investigating the effect of coffee and red wine on human health.

Coffee and mortality

That morning cup of coffee that is part of our daily routine may extend our lives.

Or at least that’s the conclusion of a study published in July in Annals of Internal Medicine, which followed nearly 200,000 people for ten years.

Researchers found that those who drank 1.5 to 3.5 cups of coffee a day-even with a teaspoon of sugar were up to 30% less likely to die during the decade of the study than non-coffee drinkers.

Those who drank coffee without sugar risk dying between 16 and 21% less. And those with the lowest risk of death drank three cups of coffee a day during the study period.

This is not the first study to find a reduction in the risk of dying among coffee drinkers. In 2018 another study that followed more than 500,000 people for ten years also found a 16% reduction in the risk of premature death.

And several studies found that reduction even among those who drank decaffeinated coffee, suggesting that the benefit comes from some of the thousands of compounds coffee contains.

Many people, however, still think that coffee is harmful and that we should limit our coffee consumption. Have we been wrong about coffee?

“For quite some time now, our perspective on the effect of coffee on health has changed radically,” Dr. Esther López-García, professor of preventive medicine and public health at the Autonomous University of Madrid, who has participated in several studies on the effects of coffee on the development of cardiovascular disease and disability, tells BBC Mundo.

“Starting in 2003, studies began to be carried out in large populations, in which coffee consumption was measured on a regular basis for years and it was seen how it affected the risk of premature death, cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes,” explains López-García.

“It was seen that regular coffee consumption had no harmful effects if properly adjusted for factors that also affected health, such as tobacco and alcohol consumption. It was even seen to be beneficial in preventing the development of type 2 diabetes and stroke.

“It was also seen that the harmful effects of caffeine are not maintained in regular consumers, who develop tolerance to this substance, and in them, the beneficial effects of other components of coffee have more impact on health,” says the expert.

In the numerous studies that have been done on coffee, evidence has emerged about its supposed protective effects against Parkinson’s disease, and it has also been mentioned that it protects against cognitive deterioration in general, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer.

But Professor López-García stresses that “the strongest evidence is for type 2 diabetes. For the rest of the diseases, it is not yet clear.”

“It is known that it is not harmful for cardiovascular diseases and neither for breast cancer. And caffeine is thought to reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, but the results are not yet clear.”

Coffee contains more than a thousand chemical compounds, many of which are being extensively researched.

It contains, for example, an enormous amount of antioxidants, which other research has shown can prevent or delay cell damage.

Professor López-García explains that the beneficial effects of coffee are mainly due to one of these antioxidants: chlorogenic acid.

“It is an antioxidant that has many beneficial effects on glucose metabolism. It also contains other substances, such as magnesium, which is a mineral with numerous health effects,” he points out.

Perhaps part of the “bad image” that coffee has had in the past is because, in some people, caffeine can cause anxiety or insomnia.

That is why the expert from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid stresses that in healthy people, the regular consumption of 3 to 5 cups of coffee “could be beneficial.”

“Nowadays, coffee consumption, without sugar, is recommended as a healthy drink in many dietary guides.”

But he adds that “all people with health problems that can be worsened by coffee consumption (insomnia, anxiety, uncontrolled hypertension, gastroesophageal reflux or cardiac arrhythmias) should receive individualized advice on the consumption of this beverage.”

Wine and its “protective effects

Red wine has often been presented as the “healthy face” of alcohol.

Several studies over the past few decades have led us to believe that an “occasional” glass of wine is associated with better cardiovascular health due to its “protective” effects on the heart.

For example, a study published in 2019 in the journal Molecules suggests that red wine is associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease due to its wide variety of polyphenol compounds.

But in January of this year, the World Heart Federation (WHF) published a review of research showing that alcohol is definitely not good for cardiovascular health.

“In recent decades, the prevalence of cardiovascular disease (CVD) has nearly doubled,” the WHF report notes, “and alcohol has played a huge role in the incidence of many of them.”

The organization notes that “for more than 30 years there has been a widespread message promoting the myth that alcohol prolongs life, primarily by reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.”

But the report adds that “the risk due to alcohol consumption is increased for most CVD” and many other diseases.

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