San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Researcher: Give Coffee A Break

COFFEE can be good for 5-year-old kids; a cup of steaming java reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease, gallstones and colon cancer; the beverage is a good source of potassium, magnesium and fluoride…? Such statements may seem like an ad campaign to jumpstart the struggling coffee industry.

Dr. Manuel Patarroyo, who claims to have discovered the world’s first effective malaria vaccine, made these affirmations last week during a visit to Costa Rica.

The Colombian doctor researched the chemical composition of coffee in an effort to provide a comprehensive explanation to studies that suggest the drink has multiple health benefits.

CLAIMING he has no economic interest in coffee, just a sincere curiosity born when he was on a coffee finca in Colombia, Patarroyo told an audience at Hotel Radisson in San José that his research has revealed no negative effects of consuming the beverage.

The March 12 event was sponsored by the Costa Rican Coffee Institute (ICAFE).

A general search on the Internet reveals many studies link caffeine consumption to increased miscarriage rates, bone loss in women, and destruction of arteries, however, Patarroyo claims few health problems are tied directly to coffee.

Patarroyo said the “myths” against coffee come from isolating substances that are found in coffee and linking them individually to diseases like cancer.

However, because of the complexity of the coffee bean – it contains more than 1,000 substances and chemical products – and the reactions it undergoes during the roasting and brewing process, coffee’s effects on health cannot be simplified, he said.

FOR example, coffee beans contain acrylamide, a substance found in French fries, potato chips and other carbohydrate-rich foods that has been found to cause cancer in animals in preliminary scientific studies.

However, the World Health Organization has said more studies of the effects of acrylamide on humans are needed before any conclusions can be drawn.

And the amount of acrylamide in brewed coffee is much less than ground coffee, Patarroyo said.

The researcher has studied the chemical components of various types of coffee beans in a raw state, and analyzed the effects that roasting and dehydrating have on coffee. He said he also has investigated what happens to the chemical composition of coffee when the beverage is allowed to sit brewed and hot for hours.

MORE than 20,000 studies have been done around the world on the effects of coffee on the human body in the past few decades, Patarroyo said. Many of the conclusions revealing the benefits of coffee were conducted from 1998 to 2001, he said, although he didn’t explain the reasons.

One of the most powerful positive effects of coffee, according to Patarroyo’s research, is the reduction of the risk of Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disease of the central nervous system characterized by slowness of movement, tremor and rigidity. In developed countries, it effects 1% of the population over age 55, 3% of the population over 65 and 10% of the population over age 75, Patarroyo said.

“In developed countries, it is an extremely serious problem,” he said. Studies in northern and southern Europe show that people who drink at least four cups of coffee a day are five times less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.

Patarroyo said he believes caffeine’s antagonism toward adenosine can reduce the clinical manifestations of Parkinson’s.

By increasing the liver’s enzymatic activity, coffee also can reduce the risk of developing hepatic cirrhosis by five times and reduce the risk of developing gallstones by 50%, Patarroyo said.

HIS research also supports the findings of studies carried out from 1960 to 1990 that suggest drinking four or more cups of coffee a day will reduce the probability of developing colon-rectal cancer by 25%, perhaps because of the inhibition of the secretion of biliary acid.

The benefits of caffeine alone are reason enough to drink coffee, according to Patarroyo, who told the audience he drinks about 15 cups of coffee a day.

“Caffeine takes 15 minutes to enter the system, is in the system for four hours and improves attention, short-term memory and alertness,” he said. “There is no effect on long-term memory – good or bad.”

These benefits hold true for children older than 5, Patarroyo added. However, a paper published by Patarroyo states children are not as sensitive to coffee or caffeine as adults and that sensitivity to methylxanthine – the family from which the caffeine alkaloid comes – increases with age.

PATARROYO also used the forum to refute other “myths” about coffee.

Despite popular belief, he said, coffee does not cause ulcers by increasing stomach acid. Ulcers are caused by the bacteria helicobacter pylori. However, coffee can aggravate them, as much as “ice cream, coke or cookies,” he said.

He also said he found no link between coffee and fertility or miscarriage.


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