Publicizing Coffee Research

Gretchen Becker Health Guide
  • Not long ago, a study was published that showed that drinking coffee increased blood glucose (BG) levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Reports of this study ricocheted throughout the Internet, and some people recommended that people with diabetes give up coffee, with headlines like "Cut out coffee diabetics urged."


    In fact, studies on coffee and diabetes have been contradictory. Some studies have shown that coffee drinkers have lower rates of type 2 diabetes than those who don't drink coffee. Others have shown that large amounts of caffeine increase insulin resistance (IR). The latter is not surprising as caffeine stimulates the release of adrenaline, which is a counterregulatory hormone that gives you a jolt of energy as well as increasing IR.

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    Recently, another study on coffee and diabetes was published. This one, conducted by researchers at several well-known medical centers in the Boston area, showed that coffee consumption is associated with higher plasma adiponectin concentrations in women with (or without) type 2 diabetes.


    Adiponectin is an "adipokine," or a hormone produced by fat cells. But unlike adipokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha, which increases IR, adiponectin seems to be a "good adipokine" that reduces IR. Overweight people, people with diabetes, and people with heart disease have low levels of adiponectin, and treatment with the glitazone drugs results in increases in adiponectin levels along with reductions in IR.


    Coffee may do the same. In the new study, coffee consumption was also associated with lower levels of markers of inflammation.


    Yet strangely, this research received almost no publicity either in newspapers or on the Internet. Why is that?


    One reason might be that the public relations people at Harvard, Brigham and Women's, and Beth Israel hospitals aren't as skilled as those at other institutions where the studies showing the down side of coffee consumption was reported. I find this difficult to believe.


    Although I have no proof of this, I suspect it's because the other studies seemed to confirm what people already believe: coffee must be unhealthy. Maybe because we're all Puritans at heart, we think anything that is pleasurable can't possibly be good for us.


    Studies on the beneficial effects of low-carb diets often receive similar treatment. If a study shows that a low-carb diet works better than a low-fat diet, the headline will focus on the fact that long-term studies of the low-carb diet haven't been published.


    But if a study shows that a low-fat diet works better than a low-carb diet, headlines will scream things like "Atkins diet kills."


    Again, because low-carb, high-fat diets include pleasurable things like whipped cream and butter, some people think they can't possibly be good for us. Better to chew on dry rusks and dehydrated celery sticks, which must be healthy because they taste so awful.


    Michael Eades, author of the Protein Power books on low-carb dieting, recently posted a fascinating piece describing a book called Mistakes Were Made, (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. I haven't read the book, so I can't comment on it myself and for now have to take Eades' summary as correct.


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    He says the book shows how difficult it is for people to change their basic beliefs, even when the evidence points to the opposite. The ADA's support for the high-carb Food Pyramid despite the fact that it causes high postprandial BG levels is a good example of this. I won't try to summarize the book's arguments. You can read Eades' blog post for yourself.


    But I suspect this is one reason there's been no publicity for this new study showing the beneficial effects of coffee drinking. We all "know" coffee must be bad for us, and we don't want to read about any other point of view.


    Or maybe it's simply because the average reporter doesn't have a clue about what adiponectin is. But now you do, so you're smarter than the average reporter. If you really enjoy coffee, read this new study (you'll have to pay to read more than the abstract) and then decide for yourself whether or not you want to give up coffee.


    I don't.

    Check out more articles by Gretchen:


    Type 2 diabetes -- an intestinal disorder?! More media hype.


    Diets in the Golden Age -- eating in the '50s


    Could HDL be bad for you?



Published On: March 24, 2008