Coffee is regularly in the news for its potential health benefits and drawbacks.
A review of the research found drinking a few cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of dying from any cause. Coffee drinkers had a lower risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and prostate, endometrial, liver, and skin cancers.
However, the review also found evidence of negative effects related to pregnancy and fracture risk in older women, even after results were adjusted for possible confounding factors, like smoking.
Some of the coffee’s positive effects have been attributed to food components called “phytonutrients.” But if you’re not a coffee drinker, don’t worry — you can find phytonutrients in other foods, too.
What are phytonutrients?
Research is shedding light on their potential benefits for human health, too. When we digest and absorb foods and drinks that are rich in phytonutrients, these compounds become active in our bodies’ biochemical pathways that affect our health and influence whether we develop the disease.
Scientists have identified thousands of phytonutrients in plants including nuts, beans, seeds, vegetables, fruit, and grains.
Research to identify those with potential for use in disease prevention and treatment is accelerating.
Two of the phytonutrients found in coffee beans are caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid. You’ll also find them in a range of fruit, vegetables, herbs, and spices.
Caffeic acid is found in dates, prunes, olives, potatoes, sunflower seed meal, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, ginger, star anise, spearmint, caraway, thyme, oregano, sage, and rosemary.
Chlorogenic acid is found in prunes, blueberries, apples, pears, peaches, globe artichokes, potatoes, sunflower seeds, spearmint, sage, and oregano.
Most of the research on caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid has been in laboratory studies, so the results cannot be applied directly to people. But laboratory studies suggest these compounds act on signaling pathways that contribute to the development of chronic diseases, including cancer.
They may prevent cancer development by neutralizing free radicals that can damage cell walls, and by converting potential cancer-causing substances into less toxic compounds.
Further, in studies in mice, caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid suppressed the rise in blood sugar levels after eating. These results suggest a mechanism for lowering the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, though we’ll need research beyond laboratory studies before we can move towards any conclusions.