Sunday, November 23, 2008

New Coffee Data, Coffee Cake for the Winter Holidays, and Longer Life For All

Like everyone else, I want to live forever. And I want everyone I love to live forever. That fact makes me completely ordinary. With that unconscious thought buzzing in my back brain, news from the Annals of Internal Medicine that regular coffee-drinking is associated with longer life jolted me into a state of subdued ecstasy! At long last, data on the impact of coffee on mortality.

About the Study
There were almost 130,000 people altogether, including 41,726 men and 86,214 women. At the beginning of the study, everyone was healthy---no cancer, no heart disease. Over the next 18 years, however, some people got sick. The researchers wanted to know how drinking coffee affected the risk of developing cancer or heart disease and death in general (during that 18-year period).

In men, drinking less than one cup of coffee a day was associated with a 7% higher risk of death. The stats got better as they drank more, however. Drinking 7 cups of coffee a week decreased the risk of death by 3% compared with the overall group. And in men, drinking at least 6 cups of coffee a day reduced the risk of death by 20% in the overall group. In women, drinking 7 cups per week decreased the risk of mortality by 18%--a benefit that remained constant as their consumption increased to 6+ cups per day.

Coffee Cake Anyone?
Already, we are heading into the final stretch of 2008---a lovely year for drinking coffee. As we move towards winter holidays and finally towards New Year celebrations, I will be turning to Alma Schneider of Take Back the Kitchen for tips on how to make her recipe “Grandma’s Depression Era Dark-Chocolate Cake”. (Two cups of dark, dark coffee, yummm…) That way, as my family frolics its way through the holiday season, I can serve cake, make people healthier, and keep them energized for all of the celebrations to come!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Virtuous Addictions?

Waking in the morning, the desire (ok the need) for coffee, is unassailable. However, it’s important not to position coffee as simply another vice. When Peter Martin, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Director of the Institute of Coffee Studies took the stage on October 21, 2004, to talk to a group of journalists, he mainly talked about the health benefits of coffee. But when the issue of addiction came up, he was ready. In most regular, serious, hard-core coffee-drinkers, coffee deprivation leads to serious symptoms: Within 12 to 24 hours, those denied their daily java get headaches, become drowsy and irritable, feel weak and tense, are unable to concentrate, and may even vomit. Fortunately, after about 48 hours, the symptoms start to improve. It sounds serious. In fact, some psychiatrists suggest that coffee withdrawal should be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

So after admitting that the beloved dark brew is addictive, Dr. Martin felt compelled to comment, saying: “I’m an addiction psychiatrist and regularly face the challenge of treating patients addicted to alcohol, cocaine, morphine, etcetera. I would like to underline that there is no evidence that coffee, or even caffeine, is addictive in the way that those drugs are. Even though headaches and the urge to drink coffee can occur after precipitously stopping drinking coffee, people do not destroy their lives and their marriages, rob banks, and commit assault or murder in order to obtain coffee.”

I watched as my neighbor and good friend struggled with coffee withdrawal during Yom Kippur. Not eating, he explained, was tolerable---but a day without coffee was challenging to the say least. But, he survived and is currently well-caffeinated.

Coffee does not destroy lives. It’s difficult to say that about alcohol, nicotine, and narcotics---but, remember, this is a scientific, empirical argument. Not a forum for moral judgment. In a recent film starring Anne Hathway as Kym, a recovering addict, Ms. Hathway is largely depicted as a sympathetic and chronically coffee-drinking character. Toasting her about-to-be-married sister, Kym proclaims, “L’Chaim” as she raises her cup of coffee 'to life'.

The end of pre-election coverage led to a news hangover, which is definitely suggestive of an addiction to excitement of the navel-gazing, we-are-making-history, this-is-a-seminal-moment variety. But that’s ok. Life---that is what we are mostly addicted to---and maybe, many other things too….Art, jazz, exercise, the New Yorker (who knew), National Pubic Radio, friends, family, and the thrum of life in our community. All very, very good things. To coffee---to life.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Soaring Heights and Economic Concerns

In a recent issue of Good (Oct 16-22), Starbucks addressed the issue of the economy. The subtitle “booms, busts, and everything in between” aptly captures the gamut of terms and concepts that comprise economic understanding. There were many interesting definitions and facts cited. A few, in particular, stood out for me:
  • The very first Internet trade was in 1994
  • In 1999, the Dow hit 11,000
  • In October 2007 (just over a year ago), the Dow hit 14,164
  • The national budget is financed by taxes and fees for public services
  • From 1845 to 1945, the typical boom or bust lasted 21 months. Since World War II, expansions have averaged 50 months and contractions have averaged 11 months.

At the moment, the intensity of economic news is counterbalancing the surge of joy around the recent election. Despite the economy, Starbucks continues to be a destination. During the tediously long, and equally enthralling election cycle, Starbucks kept us cozy and caffeinated, while encouraging us to VOTE. Then it made good on its promise to give voters a tall cup of coffee based solely on their announcement of having voted.

Overall, the demand for coffee is relatively inelastic….Americans are spending about $18 billion a year on coffee (according to the National Coffee Association) with the average consumer spending about $165 a year, though many, many people exceed that and spend hundreds, if not $1,000+ on coffee.

A friend recently sent me an article that provided yet another angle on the while coffee/economy connection. Apparently, in Colombia, home of “Juan Valdez” coffee, when demand for coffee declines, resulting in price dips, children fare better. Colombia is a huge coffee producer, responsible for 12% of the world’s coffee. In fact, coffee contributes 3.7% of Colombia’s national income. Yet, when coffee prices decrease, there is more time to care for children and attend to health-related needs--so young children benefit. According to Grant Miller and B. Piedad Urdinola, authors of “Time Vs. Money in Child Health Production: The Case of Coffee Price Fluctuations and Child Survival in Colombia,” the extra time allows parents to deal with five, critical time-consuming needs:
  1. Bring pure water from distant sources
  2. Breastfeed
  3. Forage for cleaner household fuels
  4. Practice good hygienic practices
  5. Travel to distant health facilities for highly beneficial vaccines and other health services

It would seem that this idea might turn the fair trade coffee issue on its head. But not really. True--- Starbucks bought more than 12 million pounds of Fair Trade coffee at above-market prices, which would seem to support the economic incentive to work in lieu of huge investments in the well-being of children. But Starbucks’ commitment to building schools, health clinics, coffee mills, and other projects in coffee-producing places like Colombia takes into consideration human needs beyond simply exchanging resources for capital.

Coffee is such a valuable, life-giving resource that its sale generates enough energy and surplus capital to make sure that the children of Colombia are getting a better shot.

Making sure everyone gets a shot
Seems to me that this is the new prevailing ethos! When you can, take time to protect your health and the health of those you love…and to sit down for a good read and a good cup of coffee.

Please look forward to upcoming coverage of “The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper---currently available at Starbucks.