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Medical English / By Tom Secrest

The Coffee Enigma

There is no question, that coffee is the beverage of choice for people all over the world. For some it is what gets them going in the morning; for others it is what keeps them going during the day and for students, it’s what keeps them going late into the night. Lately there is a new group of coffee drinkers; I guess we could call them coffee connoisseurs. For them it is all about the enjoyable ritual of making the perfect cup of Joe, the aroma and the relaxing time that is frequently set aside to enjoy the rewards of carefully brewing that special blend.

It wasn’t that long ago that medicine was telling us to go a little easy on coffee consumption. At that time the main concern centered on the caffeine content. As a natural stimulant, ingesting too much caffeine was considered a bit risky, especially for those with high blood pressure; and coffee, as anyone knows who has ever used it to stay awake, has a fairly hefty dose of caffeine. From these concerns was born the age of decaf, although for most, decaf was never quite as tasty as its high-octane brother. Nonetheless, clever advertisers convinced us that we needed to drink decaf, and so we did. In America, at least, it seemed that coffee makers spent more advertising dollars to convince us that their decaf products were equal in flavor to their non-decaf products than was spent to promote their older and more established (caffeinated) brands of coffee.

Recently, some long-term studies started to appear in the scientific literature praising the benefits of coffee consumption. A 13-year, Japanese, study revealed that both men and women, who drank one or more cups of coffee per day, were half as likely to develop mouth, throat and esophagus cancer compared to those that didn’t drink coffee at all. A second study (24 years) showed, with some specific restrictions, that women who drank 2-3 cups per day had a 19% reduced risk of having a stroke compared to women who had less than one cup per month. There was also a study that reported that middle-aged adults who drank at least 3 cups of coffee per day decreased their risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by 65%. Finally there was a study that indicated that coffee drinking decreased the risk of type 2 diabetes. All of these studies offered some very encouraging health benefits related to consuming one of the world’s most popular liquid refreshments.

However, as they say, every silver lining is surrounded by a dark gray cloud; which appears to be the case with regard to coffee. In a study published in the November 2nd, 2010 issue of Neurology, Elizabeth Mostofsky and her colleagues found that, during the one hour period after drinking a cup of coffee, the risk of having a stroke doubled! They also noted that risk levels returned to normal after one hour had passed. Oddly, there was no increased risk associated with drinking tea or cola, both of which are also known to contain a reasonable jolt of caffeine.

By now you’re thinking this last study pretty much ruins all the benefits of the previously mentioned studies; but wait, there’s a catch. The increased risk of stroke was seen only in those who were occasional coffee drinkers, which was defined as one cup per day or less. On the other hand, for those who regularly imbibed more generous quantities of coffee each day, there was no increased risk at all.

When putting the studies together it would seem to suggest that the positive effects of coffee occur at 2-3 cups per day, which is also the amount that reduces the potential negatives effects, i.e. those associated with strokes. However, before you seek longevity through increased coffee consumption, consult your physician and make sure you blood pressure is under control. Remember, you can’t feel high blood pressure, and those with uncontrolled high blood pressure will be the most susceptible to the vasoconstrictive effects of caffeine. Once you and your doctor have good control of your blood pressure, that 2nd or 3rd cup of coffee should be fine, and might even provide you with a few benefits you hadn’t expected.

Live long and well.


  • enigma – hádanka, záhada
  • beverage – nápoj
  • lately – nedávno, v poslední době
  • guess – myslit, hádat, soudit
  • connoisseur – znalec, fajnšmekr
  • enjoyable – příjemný, působící radost, působící požitek, chutný
  • awake – vzbudit se, probudit se
  • nonetheless – nicméně, stejně
  • recently – nedávno, v poslední době
  • esophagus – jícen
  • encouraging – povzbuzující, povzbudivý
  • surrounded by – obklopený (7. p.)
  • oddly – kupodivu
  • imbibe – pít (nemírně)
  • susceptible – vnímavý, citlivý


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