MANILA, SEPTEMBER 27, 2009 (STAR) It is said that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but how about a cup of coffee? As more and more international studies show that a cup of coffee is rich in health-giving antioxidants, somebody may soon come up with a new health proverb about coffee as well.

The Institute of Coffee Studies in Vanderbilt University, Nashville, USA, has found that a cup of coffee is rich in antioxidants — natural substances that slow down the effects of premature aging and may help prevent degenerative diseases.

What are antioxidants and how do they help us stay healthy? First we have to understand what oxidation is. Oxidation happens at the molecular level inside our cells. Essentially, it’s a process where an atom of oxygen is added to the molecules in our cells. Oxidation is a natural, unavoidable process.

It’s ironic that we all need oxygen to breathe and stay alive, but at the same time, it also causes oxidative stress oxidation — which is a result of cellular damage caused by reactive oxygen molecules called free radicals. It is a toxic chemical reaction in the body that produces harmful molecules called “free radicals.”

Scientists believe that the oxidation process and the resulting free radicals may cause the symptoms of aging as well as many diseases. Since we are exposed to oxygen constantly, the process of oxidation occurs every day and may even increase with stress, excess physical activity, illness, and other factors.

However, there is a way to counter the negative effects of oxidation process and that is mainly through a proper, nutritious diet. This is because certain foods are naturally high in antioxidants. They are called antioxidants precisely because they fight the oxidation process and help repair damage caused by oxidation.

There are many types of antioxidants and are classified into two: micronutrients and polyphenols. Well-known micronutrient antioxidants include vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin E (tocopherol), vitamin A (carotenoid), and mineral selenium.

Polyphenols are plant-based antioxidants which are found in fruits, vegetables, soya beans, red wine, green and black tea, spices like sage and rosemary, citrus fruits, onions and olives and, yes, in coffee as well.

Antioxidants in coffee

The most abundant antioxidants in coffee are polyphenolspolyphenols known as chlorogenic acids or CGAs. According to Professor Peter Martin of the Institute of Coffee Studies, these chlorogenic acids in coffee have been studied, the results of which indicate potential beneficial effects on human health.

These beneficial effects include potential “positive effects on chronic degenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer, according to the study “Chlorogenic Acids and Lactones in Regular and Water-Decaffeinated Arabica Coffees” (published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 2006) that Martin authored with four other researchers.

The same study also mentioned that there are indications that CGAs are observed to also help improve the liver “burn” or use up glucose uptake (glucose is the form that sugar takes in the body after digestion).

This indicates that CGAs may be beneficial among type 2 diabetics. However, more studies need to be made to validate these findings.

Coffee has most polyphenols

A study conducted in Switzerland (“Comparison of the Antioxidant Activity of Commonly Consumed Polyphonic Beverages [Coffee, Cocoa, and Tea] Prepared per Cup Serving,” The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 2001) shows that in comparison to a cup of green tea, herbal teas and cocoa, a cup of coffee contains the most amount of polyphenols.

The study shows that a cup of coffee still retains a large amount of polyphenols — despite of the process of roasting the coffee beans, decaffeination or adding milk. According to the study, a cup of coffee has up to four times more polyphenols than a cup of green tea.

According to Martin, “(The) latest evidence indicates that in moderation (2-4 cups per day) not only is coffee not bad for you, it may offer some health benefits.”

While further studies on polyphenols and other antioxidants are still needed to fully understand their health benefits, present scientific findings indicate that a nutritious diet of foods and beverages — including coffee — containing antioxidants may help in slowing down the effects of aging and prevent serious diseases.

As further studies reveal the health benefits of coffee, coffee drinkers might find themselves not keeping their doctor away, but instead inviting him or her for a cup of coffee.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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