Coffee and health

The French poet and philosopher Voltaire is said to have drunk 50 cups of coffee a day. When a friend accused him of slowly but surely poisoning himself with it, he said:"Yes, you're right. I've only been drinking it for 65 years." It has remained so until today: Some defend vehemently the good qualities of their favourite drink, others blame him for all sorts of pathogenic effects.

For many people, coffee is a luxury food and a way of life they don't want to do without. One can see it in the annual statistics on high consumption: in 1998, the per capita consumption of the population in the Federal Republic of Germany was about 160 l; that is more than 1000 cups. So the question "What's really true about the pros and cons?" is interesting.

In order to answer this question, however, we must first deal with another question, namely "What is in the coffee?". The best-known and most popular ingredient is caffeine. Depending on the type and strength of coffee, a cup contains 50 - 150 mg of caffeine. In addition, there are various acids and other substances produced during roasting, proteins and mineral salts, especially potassium.

The good thing about coffee: caffeine, but also some of the roasting agents, stimulate the cerebrum and facilitate thought work. Both groups of fabrics create a feeling of greater performance and can even brighten up dark moods in some people. Because not only the caffeine, but also the coffee's roasting agents have a stimulating effect, decaffeinated coffee can also act as a stimulant.

The coffee's defenders also bring its potassium content into the field. In the regulation of blood pressure, potassium is regarded as a pressure-lowering adversary of the salt which promotes high pressure. However, one would have to drink about 5 cups of medium-strong coffee to absorb as much potassium as with a large banana.

A pleasant side effect for some coffee drinkers is also the laxative effect of the coffee, whereas its diuretic effect can sometimes be rather annoying. The body also loses calcium as a result of increased urine excretion, which is important as a building block of stable bones and teeth.

On the other hand, there are coffee properties that can cause discomfort. Caffeine not only has a stimulating effect on the cerebrum, it also increases the excitability of the autonomic nervous system and can disrupt the balance, especially in unstable individuals. Some people experience an unpleasant inner restlessness or redness of the face after enjoying a cup of coffee; others complain about cramp-like pains in the stomach, intestines, bile ducts or heart.

Since caffeine briefly boosts the pumping capacity of the heart, coffee can overload the previously damaged organ in patients with cardiac insufficiency, accelerated heartbeat and cardiac arrhythmias. Time and again it is heard that caffeine has a blood pressure-increasing effect. However, this statement is only partially true because caffeine can also reduce blood pressure on the other hand. This means that a short-term increase in blood pressure is usually followed by a drop in blood pressure. That's why coffee is not an ideal remedy for people with low blood pressure.

The roasting agents also have an unpleasant side. They increase acid production in the stomach; some people react to it with heartburn, fullness or nausea.
During pregnancy, the half-life of caffeine in the mother's blood increases from 2 to 20 hours. Half-life is the time in which half the dose of a substance is broken down. Caffeine easily enters the unborn child's brain and increases excitability.
Like other stimulants, the pick-me-up coffee is often misused to cover up sleep and relaxation breaks. However, it is a truism that in the long run, it is not possible to get more strength out of the organism than it can generate itself. A constantly excessive balance of power is the root cause of some psychosomatic illnesses. This aspect must not be underestimated when it comes to coffee. Coffee is also not suitable for reducing or even eliminating the effects of alcohol.

All in all, most people tolerate the daily consumption of three to four cups of normally strong coffee beans. Pregnant women should try to make do with one cup in the morning and one in the afternoon and switch to other drinks. Vegetatively unstable persons and patients with cardiac arrhythmias, overactive thyroid gland or stomach and intestinal ulcers have to try out whether and in what amount they tolerate coffee - with or without caffeine. However, in case of discomfort, they should refrain from doing so and perhaps switch to the tea with less caffeine, which, unlike coffee, does not contain any roasting agents.

Copyright: Landeszentrale fuer Gesundheitsfoerderung in Rheinland-Pfalz e.V. (LZG) Germany