Coffee and diabetes – the more, the better

Behind oil, coffee is the second largest commodity market in the world. That places it ahead of steel, gold, and wheat. Some 2.25 billion cups are consumed worldwide every day.

Coffee is a bigger market than any foodstuff. And yet, it is not a food in a traditional sense. It provides very limited nutrition and we certainly could live without it. With its distinct stimulant properties and propensity for dependence, it certainly is a “recreational” drug and the most valuable recreational drug in the world.

We commonly associate recreational drugs with negative effects on human health. And indeed, popular lore links coffee to everything from cancer to heart disease to anxiety. A recent article in the NEJM, however, shows that coffee consumption has positive effects on human longevity (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1112010). The study analyzed data from 229,119 men and 173,141 women.

The study found that coffee drinkers were much more likely to indulge in “bad” lifestyle choices (smoking, less fruits and veggies, exercise, more red meat). However, when these factors are corrected for, coffee consumption has protective effect on deaths due to respiratory disease, heart disease, stroke, injuries, diabetes and infections. No protection (or increased risk) was seen in deaths due to cancer.

Overall, the risk of death is reduced about 2-5% per cup of coffee a day (more is better). For females, 4-5 cups reduced the risk of death by nearly 15% and for males about 10%.

And it doesn’t seem to matter whether it is caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee. The effect is the same.

For the most of the causes of death listed above, coffee doesn’t dramatically reduce the risk of death. But what struck me was the reduction in deaths due to diabetes in those that drank 6 or more cups a day. For both men and women, a 40% reduction in death due to diabetes was seen (and decaffeinated seems to work a little better!!!).

It turns out that there are dozens of studies in populations throughout the world that have shown a lower rate of developing diabetes. These studies are summarized in a review by Pimentel et al (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2761298/?tool=pubmed). Here are some highlights:

Population               Coffee group (cups/day)      Relative risk (non-coffee drinkers = 1.00)

Dutch men and women            >7                                            0.50

Swedish women                        >7                                            0.48

American men                           >6                                            0.46

American women                      >6                                            0.71

Finnish men and women         >10                                            0.39

Japanese men and women      >3                                            0.58

Singapore men and women     >4                                            0.70

Pima men and women              >12                                          0.33

Check out those numbers. Finns and Pimas who drink more than cups a day reduce their risk by nearly 65%.

While there are a few studies that do not show the strong inverse association of diabetes and coffee consumption, there are NO studies that show an increased risk of diabetes. Using the average American intake of two cups a day, most Americans are experiencing a modest reduction (2-10%) in their risk of developing diabetes (just think of how bad our current diabetes epidemic would be if we weren’t drinking so much coffee).

Another review by van Dam and Hu (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15998896/) concluded:

“This systematic review supports the hypothesis that habitual coffee consumption is associated with a substantially lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Longer-term intervention studies of coffee consumption and glucose metabolism are warranted to examine the mechanisms underlying the relationship between coffee consumption and type 2 diabetes.”

There is much, much more about the health benefits of coffee and I will have another entry in the near future about them. In the meantime, enjoy that antioxidant-laden brew that appears to ward off diabetes, heart disease and more.

Dr. Jeff

PS: I couldn’t find any data, but I don’t believe that a 510 calorie venti caramel frappuccino can be considered a cup of coffee for the purposes of reducing your risk for diabetes.