Perking up your sugar metabolism

For many people, coffee is enjoyed for its energizing effects—however, research has revealed many previously unrecognized health benefits.

Recent large population studies have begun to uncover healthy associations with consistent coffee consumption.

For example, the Nurses’ Health Study followed over 121,000 mid-aged women from over 11 states for at least 20 years. Though the initial aim was to examine the relationship between birth control and breast cancer, through detailed lifestyle questionnaires the researchers were able to identify many novel health effects of routine behaviors. Consistent coffee consumption was found to be associated with a 20 percent reduction in stroke risk.

In a similar study, coffee consumption was found to be associated with a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Even after controlling for physical activity, smoking, and other diabetes risk factors, the investigators still observed an appreciable decline in rates of diabetes among those who regularly drank coffee. Another study found that those who consumed four of more cups a day had a 50 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes, with every additional conferring a 7 percent reduction.

Diabetes is a major cause of heart disease and stroke and the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes and 90-95 percent of cases are type 2, which occurs when the pancreas is not capable of producing enough insulin.

Despite many reports documenting health benefits from coffee, the underlying mechanism was unknown until recently. A group at the Huazhong University in China studied the effect of several components of coffee on pancreas cells.

Interestingly, they found that four of the major compounds found in coffee (caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, caffeine, and dihydrocaffeic acid) inhibited the formation of a protein called human islet amyloid polypeptide.  Amyloids are mis-folded protein fibrils that can accumulate in organs, interfere with normal function and lead to disease. For instance, Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the presence of beta amyloid in the brain. Similarly, accumulation of human islet amyloid polypeptide in the pancreas has been implicated in the development of type 2 diabetes.

In spite of this clear benefit, it is important to remember that drinking coffee excessively comes with risks as well. Caffeine in coffee can worsen anxiety and cause irritability and insomnia. Additionally, caffeine stimulates urinary output and as many people substitute caffeinated beverages for water, there is a possible risk of dehydration.

However, in the current study, the researchers found that caffeine was the least potent compound in preventing amyloid formation, thus, drinking decaffeinated beverages can still relay a similar health benefit.

Although, I am not recommending coffee as a wonder drug to prevent diabetes, this research demonstrates a clear health benefit of a popular beverage.  Perhaps in the future, further isolation of these active compounds can lead to a pill which can decrease the risk of diabetes, but for now diet and exercise remain the only proven way to prevent diabetes.

Dr. David B. Samadi is the Vice Chairman of the Department of Urology and Chief of Robotics and Minimally Invasive Surgery at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. He is a board-certified urologist, specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of urological disease, with a focus on robotic prostate cancer treatments. To learn more please visit his websites and Find Dr. Samadi on Facebook.