The science has gone back and forth and back again on whether coffee is good or bad for you. Pregnant women are forbidden from it and all caffeinated drinks. Children are told that coffee will stunt their growth in an effort to keep them away from the semi-addictive substance. Regarding heart disease specifically, the science heretofore has been unclear at worst and inconclusive at best, but some new work produced by Stanford and published in Nature suggests from some well-vetted evidence that coffee and tea could help protect moderate drinkers from contracting heart disease.
For one, caffeine has been shown to reduce one’s risk of chronic inflammation. Consider how the immune system protects against invaders: the body has numerous lines of defense intended to keep bacteria, viruses, and other unwanted microbes out of the body, but as the body ages, these lines of defense begin to weaken. As the immune system slowly erodes and becomes less responsive to vaccines, the body will often detain an intruder in a “limbo” in the one of the immune layers, resulting in a low-grade inflammation known as chronic inflammation. It’s a sign of the usual wear-and-tear our bodies have endured over the years, but it leaves us uncomfortable with no real cure or remedy. Upwards of 90% of noncommunicable age-related disease is related to this inflammation, according to Stanford researcher David Furman.
According to research collected at Stanford, this chronic inflammation is caused, among other things, by Metabolites, or leftover material of nucleic acids (i.e. the stuff that makes up DNA and some other important molecules in our bodies). As these collect in the blood and circulate around the body, this chronic inflammation worsens. Naturally, this reaction varies from person to person, as small genetic and epigenetic alterations make huge differences, but in studies performed on mice, as researchers injected more of these metabolites into their systems, the mice exhibited skyrocketing rates of hypertension and blood pressure.
The Stanford researchers studied the activation of this inflammatory mechanism and the genes responsible for controlling this mechanism in blood samples from both young adults and retirement-aged adults. As it turns out, the samples with lower instances of inflammation came from adults who reported higher levels of caffeine intake. Caffeine and its metabolites remarkably mimic the makeup and shape of nucleic acid metabolites, and can act as competitive inhibitors to the process that causes inflammation — that is, the more caffeine takes up space in the blood, the less room there is for the damaging metabolites to cause problems. Stanford’s research team found that people whose blood samples had lower rates of inflammatory gene activation (presumably from higher rates of coffee intake) were eight times as likely to report having family members who lived to be over 90 years old. The researchers concluded, then, that caffeine consumption could lead to prolonged longevity.
This is excellent news for all of us coffee addicts and tea people, but it’s just as important to make sure that the coffee and tea you’re drinking is as pure as its advertising leads you to believe. Books like Real Food Fake Food by Larry Olmsted indicate that you may not be drinking what you think you’re drinking. As important as moderate caffeine intake is, do your research to ensure that you’re drinking something pure and free from unwanted other ingredients. As long as you’re imbibing high-quality beverages, though, rest assured your heart will thank you come your 100th birthday.