Urn Of Youth: Health Benefits Of Coffee

by Claudius J West

coffee-longevityWhen my counterpart, Ms. Immortal, told me about Dr. Mercola’s interview with Ori Hofmekler extolling the virtues of black coffee from freshly ground arabica beans, it sounded like a veritable fountain of youth. Sign me up for that.

Freshly ground—that’s important. Not freshly ground because it says so on the can, but freshly ground because you did the grinding yourself right before brewing (to protect against rancidity).

The only snag: the bean and I have never been friends.

I can’t say I ever gave the relationship much of a chance. Bitter flavors—dark chocolate, grapefruit, coffee—bring a frown to my pursed lips. (I was cruelly scarred at age four when I trespassed on my mother’s baking supplies and discovered a huge block of unsweetened chocolate, all mine. What a reversal that turned out to be.)

But for the sake of stimulating the release of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a neuron rejuvenating compound, I undertook to become a java drinker.

No sipping for me. I allow the coffee to reach room temperature, then it’s a quick swig and a grimace, as if it were medicine.

To do its job, the coffee, according to Hofmekler, must be black, and no sugar. I’m not sure if this is because cream and sugar negate the benefits of coffee or just that Hofmekler considers them undesirables. (I agree with him about the sugar being bad.)

Have I stopped aging, yet? I can’t tell.

It occurs to me that if coffee were a fountain of youth we would have noticed by now, what with the way “America runs on Dunkins.” (Too true.)

coffee woman you can sleep when you're deadWhat’s so great about coffee? It has lots of antioxidants, yes, but it also is a pure slug of acid. Too much acid in our systems leads to acidosis, which makes our bodies a ripe breeding ground for cancer. In the meantime, our bodies yank calcium out of our bones to try to counteract too much acid, to the detriment of our skeletons.

Hofmekler advises counteracting the acid from coffee by eating more foods that provide chemical bases. In the right proportions, bases and acids cancel each other out. How do we get more bases into our bodies? Eat plenty of vegetables.

Here’s a wrinkle: to lower the acid in your coffee, cold water brew it. That is, let the grounds steep in cold water for a few hours. Strain it and drink it, or heat it, if you prefer it hot.

But wait, there’s a problem with heating coffee. Heating coffee creates a a heterocyclic organic compound called furan. What’s the big deal about furan? Furan has been shown to cause bile duct cancer in rats and liver cancer in mice (National Toxicology Program, 1993; Moser et al. 2009). The good news is that you would need to drink more than 30 cups of espresso, or more than 200 cups of instant coffee daily before jittering beyond the danger line.

Before I began drinking coffee, my furan intake was 0%. I like that number. Is stimulating the BDNF and getting the extra anti-oxidants really worth it?

“Over 1,000 chemicals have been reported in roasted coffee; more than half of those tested (19/28) are rodent carcinogens. Coffee’s negative health effects are often blamed on its caffeine content.” —Wikipedia

Clearly, if you’re a rat, it’s time to switch.

On the plus side, studies have linked coffee with lower rates of:

Type 2 diabetes
Parkinson’s disease
Heart rhythm problems

So, if you’re not a rat, you have justification to keep on slurping as much Starbucks as you can afford.

Hofmekler’s research says that coffee can increase your metabolism up to 20%. That’s got to be useful, right?—unless you’re riding out a famine.

I know that we’re supposed to be happy about a higher metabolism because a higher metabolism will burn more of our calories and presumably make it easier for us to stay slim. But what, exactly, does “a higher metabolism” mean?

Metabolism can refer to many processes within our bodies, but let’s consider metabolism within our cells. After all, how can we increase our metabolism anywhere without increasing the metabolism of our cells?

If we increase our cellular metabolism, does it seem to you that doing so would shorten the time cells need to reach cell division? That’s how it seems to me.

To simplify, let’s say that increasing our metabolism by 20% means a 20% decrease in the time it takes for a cell to reach its reproductive stage and divide. As you probably know, a cell divides a finite number of times before its telomeres are used up and it bumps into the Hayflick Limit and croaks.

That being the case, wouldn’t a 20% increasing in our metabolism mean an equivalent 20% decrease in our potential lifespans? If so, then that’s the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve here at Mister Immortal. Maybe an elevated metabolism isn’t such a desirable thing.

What about caffeine?

spider webs

Top: drug-free
Middle: Caffeine
Bottom: LSD=25

Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that plants produce to paralyze and kill offending insects. Take a look at what caffeine wiped on a spider does to its web-building abilities. Even the spider on LSD-25 did a better job.

Caffeine counteracts adenosine, thus reducing resting cerebral blood flow between 22% and 30%. But is less cerebral blood flow in the brain a good thing? Seems to me that more blood flow is better than less.

Hofmekler says that decaffeinated coffee has none of the nutritional value of regular coffee, so going the decaf route is out.

Fun fact: the caffeine that gets taken out of coffee and tea isn’t thrown away. It ends up in your soda and Red Bull. Globally, about 120,000 tons of caffeine a year get guzzled. Hurrah for the world’s most popular psychoactive drug!

Mycotoxins in your coffee.

A mycotoxin is a poison produced by fungi. You’ve heard of poisonous toadstools? Mycotoxins also come from molds, which are part of the fungus family. You’ve heard of homes that must be destroyed after being overrun by molds? Mycotoxins: nasty stuff.

coffee drying 01

They probably wipe off their boots before jumping in.

Coffee harvested from a bush (or tree) is a fruit called a cherry. Inside is the coffee seed, which we call a bean. With the wet processing method of preparing the coffee before roasting, the fruit is stripped off, washed, then dried with machines.

A lot of coffee comes from small farms in Brazil, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Guatemala and other tropical countries. Many small plantations use the dry processing method, which doesn’t require the machinery that wet milling does. The dry method involves the whole coffee cherry spread out on concrete or brick patios for the sun to dry. Depending on weather conditions, the drying stage can continue up to four weeks. Once dried, cherries are stored in bulk in special silos. Later, they are sent to mills where hulling, sorting, grading and bagging take place. All the outer layers of the dried cherry are removed in one step by the hulling machine.

coffeebean_1_You can call it drying, but it seems to me a lot like rotting. Either way, molds are abundantly free to flourish on exposed cherries. Perhaps the molds and their toxins are all washed away during cleaning, or denatured during roasting. (Roasting can occur at temperatures up to five hundred degrees Fahrenheit.) My research hasn’t been able to confirm what the cleaning or roasting process does to mycotoxins. That’s why, given the choice, you may wish to choose coffee that has undergone wet mill processing.

Perhaps I jumped onto the black coffee bandwagon too hastily, what with mycotoxins, acid and caffeine to contend with. On closer examination, the benefits of BDNF stimulation appear overstated. Sure, BDNF helps protect and rejuvenate neurons and other tissues, but my body produces BDNF even in the absence of coffee. Maybe I don’t need any more than what my body naturally produces for its own reasons. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

As for the antioxidant boost, there are lots of other ways to get antioxidants that don’t have any of coffee’s drawbacks.

coffee panda

Panda loves you.

As we’ve seen, coffee helps in other ways, but those lower rates of certain diseases apply to people
drinking three to five cups per day. That’s not me.

Do I keep drinking, or not? I will continue, at least until all of the beans I bought get used up. If during that time I stop aging, I will be sure to buy more.




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