Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Recent reports implicating drinking of coffee and tea regularly in reducing incidence of brain tumor seem to have attracted world wide attention. Historically consumption of tea has been recognized for its beneficial effect on health while coffee consumption invariably was being frowned upon due to the extreme processing conditions the beans undergo raising uncertainties regarding the risks associated with the artifacts formed during roasting under high temperature conditions. What really makes people opt for coffee or tea as their daily beverage? No one knows! But based on all the studies that have emerged on consumption of these two beverages, there is very little to chooses between them.

In a cohort study enlisting the services of more than 4 lakh subjects, spread over a period of 8.5 years under the aegis of European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutritional project (EPCIN), it is being claimed that both coffee and tea, if consumed daily in quantities more than half cup, about 100 ml, confer some advantages to the consumer. The major conclusion from this survey is that both coffee and tea when consumed as mentioned above reduce the risks associated with Glioma, a type of brain tumor to the extent of 34% in men. Why it is not effective in women is a question that will have to be answered by future studies. Though the above conclusion was not based on real scientific research, the massive nature of the study still offers a glimpse into the possibility of protection by the two beverages against Glioma which can be confirmed with more clinical research. In a separate study it was brought out that coffee drinking can protect from uterine cancer and endometrial cancer in women, the overall risk being reduced by 44%. Similarly a few studies by other research groups have highlighted the usefulness of coffee in preventing heart attacks, reducing the risk by 70%. Other claims of beneficial effects of coffee include protection against Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, liver cancer, gallstone formation and Type 2 Diabetes.

As for tea consumption the major emphasis has been on its antioxidant contents (Flavonoids/Polyphenols/
Catechins/chlorogenic acid), which help in protecting the cells against oxidative damage that can lead to development of cancer. Green tea is considered the most desirable from health point of view though the black,white and milk-whitened tea preparations contain antioxidants in lesser quantities. Experimental evidence suggests that some of the antioxidants present in these beverages such as Chlorogenic acid lactone can protect neuronal cell cultures against Hydrogen Peroxide induced cell death. Tea is also reported to be endowed with the power to reduce decline of cognitive abilities during the aging process. Another report claims that drinking of 3 cups of black tea daily lowers by 70% the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

If these stimulant beverages are so good for consumer health why they have not been promoted as health beverages so far is rather intriguing. Probably presence of Caffeine in the brewed products may be the main reason for the reservation in recommending these beverages as health promoting. It is well known that Caffeine has a tendency to raise blood pressure if taken frequently and its consumption is not encouraged amongst pregnant women, nursing mothers and children because of this factor. One issue that is not clear from the results of the cohort study cited above is how much variation one can expect by drinking coffee prepared by different methods like brewing, drip and espresso because there is significant differences vis-à-vis caffeine content in the end products prepared through the above methods. Drip prepared coffee extracts maximum caffeine about 115-175 mg per cup while brewed and espresso versions contain much less caffeine. Same may be true with regard to concentration of antioxidants also in the final products.

If the global consumption of levels of coffee is considered, highest consumption is in Denmark while Italians consume least coffee. As for Tea, UK is the leader whereas consumption by Spanish people is the least. Probably it might be interesting to survey the incidence of various diseases against which Coffee and Tea are supposed to provide protection, in countries like Denmark, Italy, UK and Spain and validate the findings of the
EPCIN study and other similar reports which brought out the beneficial effect of these beverages on human health. It is quite revealing as to how cocoa industry is exploiting the health credentials of cocoa beans by launching a separate "Functional Chocolate Industry" which produces chocolates containing more than 50% cocoa solids to derive the benefit of antioxidants present in cocoa. To day there are health chocolates containing cocoa solids as high as 85%! Coffee and Tea industry also must consider emulating cocoa industry in putting these beverages and products evolved from them on "health pedestal" with distinctly proven benefits.


1 comment:

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