What is your morning brew doing to you?Read More
For millions of us around the world, our day cannot begin without a hot cup of coffee to give us that much-needed pick-me-up. We all know this is thanks to our friend caffeine. But, what else is in coffee and what other effects is it having on us? Since we’re consuming over 400 billion cups of the stuff a year, it’s worth knowing what it’s actually doing to us. To celebrate National Coffee Day, I thought I’d take some time to look into some of the surprising health benefits of coffee.
Firstly, what’s in it? Aside from the obvious water and caffeine, the main ingredients of your brew include Trigonelline, Dimethyl disulphide, 2-Ethyphenol, Quinic acid, Putrescine, 3,5 Dicaffeoylquinic acid, Niacin, cafestol and kahweol, to name a few. That’s all nice to know but what’s the result on our health and body?
Coffee Effects & Benefits
Type II diabetes
Studies have shown that people who drink 3 or more cups of coffee a day were 37% less likely to develop type II diabetes than those who didn’t. The exact ingredient that has this effect is not known. However, caffeine has been ruled out as decaffeinated coffee seems to be more beneficial. It must be stressed that the main risk factor for diabetes is weight. So maintaining a healthy weight is vitally important too, not just your 3 cups of coffee a day (although it does help).
A 10-year study on over 50,000 women reported an inverse dose-response relationship between caffeine consumption and risk of depression. Those who drank 4 or more cups a day were 20% less likely to suffer from depression than their peers who drank little or no coffee at all. Caffeine is known to give you that feel-good factor by stimulating the release of neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline. It is cautioned that the results of the study may be down to the good mood and energised feeling that coffee provides, meaning the women were more positive when recording their mood symptoms throughout the trial.
A 2015 report by World Cancer Research Fund International concluded that drinking coffee decreases the risk of liver cancer in men. It’s thought to be a result of two ingredients in coffee: cafestol and kahweol, which were found to reduce genotoxicity by 50% in human-derived hepatoma cells. Elements of coffee have a DNA repair capacity, which exert chemopreventive (cancer prevention) effects.
In in vitro systems coffee has been reported to have anti-angiogenic activity. Angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels, is a vital function in order for tumours to grow and survive. Without this, cancerous tumours will struggle to develop so this could be vital in preventing cancer.
As an aside, coffee is also found to have anti-inflammatory properties, predominantly in the liver. Studies found that coffee inhibited the production of inflammatory markers including IL-6, TGFβ, TNFα and IFN-γ.
It may be a good idea to have a quick cuppa before your next workout as research has found that coffee may increase fat burn during exercise. This is a combination of caffeine increasing your metabolism and coffee causing fat cells to be used as the source of fuel, instead of the usual glycogen. It’s also suggested that coffee may reduce muscle aching during and post-workout, ultimately allowing you to do more. These benefits, combined, make coffee seem like a great idea when considering your next workout.
If all of the above wasn’t enough, a study from 2014 concluded that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee a day could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 20%. Another study even reported a 65% reduced risk in later life! It’s the wealth of antioxidants residing in coffee that are responsible for this. Researchers believe they prevent the formation of the amyloid plaques that are the markers of Alzheimer’s disease. As well as this, they deter any inflammation and decline of brain cells in the areas of the brain responsible for memory: the cortex and hippocampus.
To top it all off, coffee may be to thank for your pearly whites. Trigonelline, a compound I mentioned earlier, was found to prevent mucus by-products from adhering onto our teeth. This prevents the formation of dental cavities. I wouldn’t suggest downing a cup before your next dentist appointment though.
It must be stressed that a balanced diet is the key to leading a healthy life and without that coffee won’t have any of these great benefits. Take these findings with a pinch of salt and still consume coffee within reason. Oh, and sleep is important too, so don’t go downing a few espressos right before bed!
If you’re doing anything special to celebrate National Coffee Day, let me know by tweeting me, @emilyatnotch!
Oliver Sacks – The Mind TravellerRead More
Having studied neuroscience as a degree, I have on more than one occasion found myself totally engrossed in one of Oliver Sacks many fascinating and peculiar books – a position anyone who has picked up a Sacks book will have no doubt found themselves in (and if you haven’t already done so, I insist you do!)
Therefore, when the famed neurologic storyteller died on August 30, 2015 aged 82 of cancer I was quick to join the millions of others grieving the misfortune of the world for losing a physician like no other.
To celebrate Sacks’ exceptional work and the brain in all its magnificent glory I therefore thought it entirely appropriate to compile a list of the more bizarre cases Sacks encountered during his colourful career – including the man that mistook his wife for a hat and the patients Sacks brought back from the dead. However, for those of you not familiar with the late explorer and storyteller, I first begin with some background to his studies.
“The brain, the imperfect organ that defines us all” – Morley Safer
Describing the brain as “the most intricate mechanism in the universe” Sacks was unafraid to ask the weightiest questions about its function and anomalies (even at the risk of losing his own mind) in the search for what could be learned about ‘normal.’ As an expert in fields such as phantom limb pain, epilepsy, colour vision and the effect music has on the brain, he confronted dysfunctional and disorderly brain syndromes, including his own prosopagnosia or ‘face blindness’ and presented his studies in a way that combined science and humanism that hadn’t been seen for over a century. This resulted in moving portraits of the human beings behind often-bizarre neurological conditions – captivating a wide audience of scientists and non-scientists alike and a style of medical writing that readers around the world fell in love with. It is no surprise then that Sacks’ four decades of expressive writing and breakthrough work has illuminated areas of brain science and dramatically increased awareness of syndromes such as Tourette’s and Asperger’s, naming him the world’s most well known neurologist.
Oliver Sacks Contribution to Neuroscience
He has contributed immensely to neuroscience and medical research and on the whole, people view his work as inspiring and ground-breaking. Indeed, anyone who has read any of his novels can most likely recall a study that they would call their favourite, most memorable or simply fascinating.
For this reason, I have compiled my very own list of some of Sacks’ stranger studies:
1. The patients who appeared to wake from the dead
Sacks made some of his biggest contributions to neuroscience in the mid-1960s during his time at Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx, New York. Now considered one of his most famous cases and inspiring the 1990 Oscar-winning film Awakenings, there he treated patients suffering from ‘sleepy sickness’ – survivors of the 1920s epidemic of encephalitis lethargica, which had left them trapped inside their own bodies and unable to interact with or respond to the world around them.
Inspired by a neurology journal, Sacks decided to administer an experimentalpsychoactive drug known as L-DOPA (which increases levels of dopamine in the brain critical for movement control and mental functions) to the patients and it had an explosive ‘awakening’ effect.
However, as patients built up tolerance to the drug in months to follow, this became a “heaven-and-hell experience” (as Sacks described it) as the experiment trailed into failure and patients soon developed tics, seizures or manic behaviour, inevitably reverting back to their former catatonic states. Sacks maintains though that without the L-DOPA trial, the patients “would have just died without even a glimpse of that life.”
2. The man who mistook his wife for a hat
Also the title of one of Sacks’ most famous books, this story is taken from the case study of Dr. P, a man who suffered from visual agnosia i.e. a rare condition characterized by the inability to recognize and identify objects or persons. Sacks himself suffered from this condition mildly. This meant Dr. P could see the world around him but did not always understand it and on one occasion resulted in him confusing the sight of his wife for a hat.
3. The family man who neglected his family but loved strangers after brain surgery
Surgery to treat his epilepsy turned this 50-year-old loving husband and father into a shadow of his former family-centred self. Sacks reported this case in a 2003 article published in Epilepsy & Behavior, which called the condition ‘selective emotional detachment.’ The article reported that although in the months before his surgery the man hated the hospital, afterward he greeted his physicians as if they were long-lost friends and detailed his increasing distance from family members but growing tendency to “warm to strangers instantly”.
4. The conductor with a 30 second memory
Musician Clive Wearing contracted herpes simplex encephalitis in 1985 and as a result he was left with what Sacks describes as “the most severe case of amnesia ever documented.” Wearing was unable to form any new memories that lasted more than 30 seconds and was convinced every few minutes that he was fully conscious for the first time! He could, however, still remember music and his wife.
More of Sacks’ bizarre cases include the painter who was concussed and became colourblind, the man trapped in one particular day in 1945, a blind woman who perceived her hands as useless ‘lumps of dough’ and a woman hunted by dragons.
If anything these cases emphasise how complicated and wonderful the brain really is and Sacks’ own impairment no doubt helped him connect with his patients and write about them in the compassionate fashion which captured so many of his readers hearts. If you have enjoyed reading about these cases then, I recommend you delve into one (or all) of Sacks brilliantly written books.
If you have any comments on these wonderfully odd studies or you have your very own favourite Oliver Sacks case, please tweet me @JennyAtNotch