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Monday, August 13, 2007

Yet Another Confusing Coffee Article

“Caffeine shown to slow loss of memory in older women” by Maria Kubacki, Canwest News Service. The Gazette, Montreal, Tuesday, August 7, 2007, page A11.

This article is not about caffeine. It’s about coffee! But the mix-up is not the author’s fault. Maria Kubacki was simply quoting the lead researcher, Karen Ritchie, of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, who equated caffeine with coffee, a big leap of faith, and certainly behind the times in natural products research. The study was published in the current issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Twenty-five years ago, you could get away with such assumptions and equating an active component (which is one of many) of a natural food, drink, or medicine to be responsible for all its pharmacologic activities. Nobody would question you then because little research was being performed on the natural material’s other active components; and most researchers viewed a natural substance as if it were a single-chemical drug, for example, caffeine as coffee. It is no longer the case. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) passed in October of 1994 has changed all that. Since then, scientific research on natural medicines or supplements has been broadened to not just fixate on a particular chemical component, but rather begin to look at their totality and how they actually may benefit people. And in its totality, coffee is not caffeine!

Common drinks such as coffee and tea used to be considered synonymous with caffeine and/or theophylline. But research over the past ten to twenty years has found them to be rich in other phytochemicals such as polyphenols (e.g., up to 10% chlorogenic acid, an anti-inflammatory polyphenol) that have strong antioxidant properties. That’s not all. There are other potentially beneficial chemicals or phytonutrients also present. However, since these findings are still not widely known except through marketing by dietary supplement companies, the mainstream press largely ignores them. Which is why in both the scientific and popular media, coffee is still so often reported as caffeine. Another reason is old habits are difficult to break. Many conventionally trained health researchers tend to continue to confuse an active chemical with an intact botanical or any natural material, for that matter. Thus, some still use ginseng (whatever kind), Echinacea, tea, or coffee as if it were a single-chemical drug in their research and reporting. It appears the French researchers and the Neurology journal reviewers and editors fall into this category.

In any case, in the current report, three or more cups of coffee or tea daily was found to slow memory loss in older women, especially those over 80. The authors of the study readily pointed out this benefit as due to caffeine. Yet this was not a drug study. The drug, caffeine, was not consumed by itself, but rather as a constituent in coffee along with hundreds of other chemicals, some of which have been shown to be strongly antioxidant and possibly with other more important pharmacologic effects on Alzheimer’s disease as well. If the researchers were more cognizant of the other beneficial components of coffee and tea (as both have another thing in common – high polyphenols content), they might have discovered something important which could stimulate new research on coffee and tea. Instead, it’s more of the same based on the wrong premises. It’s a pity! The effects of other coffee and tea components besides caffeine are worth serious scientific study. It may even resolve some of the controversies about coffee, or caffeine.

Learn more about coffee and read further about Dr. Leung and his writings! Visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

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