Four cups of coffee a day protects against heart disease

We knew that coffee is good for us. Now we know why.

Last week I overheard a conversation in which a woman was telling a man how she didn’t drink coffee. The virtues of a caffeine-free life were shared between the two, including the supposed toxicity of coffee and how being “natural” is a much healthier option. The two concluded their chat with self-satisfied grins, behavioral one-ups on the other 90 percent of the country that drinks the poisonous extract from those nasty beans.


And then there’s science. 

A new study appearing in PLOS Biology, led by Judith Haendeler and Joachim Altschmied in Duesseldorf, Germany, shows that a physiologically-relevant dose of caffeine—in this case, what is achieved with four cups of coffee—protects cardiovascular cells from damage.

It has long been known that caffeine is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. These researchers wanted to know why. According to their research, a mitochondrial protein, p27, protects heart muscles from cell death and helps repair these muscles after a heart attack. After the discovery, Haendeler said

These results should lead to better strategies for protecting heart muscle from damage, including consideration of coffee consumption or caffeine as an additional dietary factor in the elderly population. Furthermore, enhancing mitochondrial p27 could serve as a potential therapeutic strategy not only in cardiovascular diseases but also in improving healthspan.

Altschmied notes that this research—along with an extensive list of over 100 studies showing the beneficial aspects of coffee consumption in helping decrease the risk of breast, colorectal, colon, endometrial, and prostate cancers, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and mortality—overturns the assumption that the elderly should avoid caffeine. 

A security guard is seen next to a 'coffee to go' sign on the streets of Shanghai on April 17, 2018. (Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

There’s also the NIH study of over 400,000 Americans, aged 50-71, showing that coffee consumption is related to a lower risk of all-cause mortality; another multinational study of over 500,000 Europeans confirmed this finding.

Of course, everyone processes caffeine differently. Some people can drink an espresso right before bed and have no problem sleeping. If I drink coffee anytime after noon, I know I’ll have a rough night. Coffee drinkers that are slow metabolizers are more susceptible to insomnia, heart palpitations, heartburn, and irritability. Caffeine has also been shown to have a negative impact on pregnancy and fertility. There are even examples of fatal overdoses. Then again, you can overdose on water.

As with such studies, coffee is not a cure-all. Haendeler notes that drinking four or five cups of coffee a day does not give anyone’s sedentary habits a pass. Regular exercise and good diet still matter.

But so does coffee. And that’s good news for us all.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Facebook and Twitter.

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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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