Saturday, December 31, 2011

Coffee For Better Performance in the (Happy) New Year

This year, we spent part of winter holiday skiing in the Berkshires. I love the quiet thrill of being on top of the mountain, anticipating the downward descent. I love a brisk sunny day---and I love a good cup of coffee.

Turns out the coffee in the ski lodge was not so good. It was black sludge. In contrast, the coffee at the hotel we stay in near Mass Moca was smooth and perfect. It came in a thermos, housed in a corrugated metal lunchbox. I was charmed, but the coffee, was and always has been excellent at Porches.

Despite the fact that one cup was amazingly good and the other breathtakingly bad, I drank them both. They served an important purpose. They helped improve my performance. Numerous studies have shown that caffeine enhances sports performance across a wide range of activities, such as running, tennis, and rowing. Effects can last up to an hour.

True, coffee is remarkably energizing, but the underlying reason that coffee enhances performance is that caffeine increases the power output of muscles by releasing calcium stored in muscles. The result: longer and faster performance, with an average improvement of 5%.

I have a friend in his 60’s (around my father’s age), who skis hard, fast, and intensely. He skis better than me by orders of magnitude. He is a coffee drinker, as am I. While that 5% may make a marginal difference for him competitively, for me, it just makes me happier as I leisurely come down the slopes watching my husband and daughter whiz by.

Northeastern winters are a distinct pleasure. Of course, we are accustomed to this reality and the idea that coffee and other hot drinks will get us through.

Happy New Year! Enjoy….Here’s to a happy, prosperous, healthy, productive, and awe-inspiring 2012!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Drinking to Uterine Health and Starbucks Hits a Milestone in China

Ni hao! It’s coffee-drinking time!

Just as the cool air arrives and finally starts to settle in here in the northeastern United States, we get the awesome news that Starbucks has opened its 500th cafĂ© in China! It’s in the international departure hall of the Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 3. The president of Starbucks China, Belinda Wong, cites the value of Starbucks as the ability to “serve our customers.” Drinking hot beverages in a spirit of community, whether a standing or transitional community, is universal. John Culver, president Starbucks Asia Pacific speaks to the need to offer the “Starbucks experience to provide the highest quality Arabica coffee, handcrafted beverages, and an exceptional experience one customer at a time.”

Fortunately, as people in China drink more coffee, they will also reap the tremendous health resources associated with coffee. Now for the latest coffee-health update: Women who drink at least 4 cups of coffee per day are less likely to get uterine cancer. That’s the news according to data from a 26-year study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention on November 22, 2011. In a study of 67,470 women between the ages of 34 and 59, researchers explored the link between coffee and uterine cancer between 1980 and 2006. Women who consumed 4 or more cups had a 25% lower risk of developing uterine/endometrial cancer, compared with those who consumed less than one cup per day (P=.02).

Researchers suggest that the link may be based on the fact that coffee lowers estrogen and insulin levels, but caution that cream and sugar could ruin the health-enhancing effects of coffee.

Drink up and stay healthy and happy!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Drinking Coffee in North Creek, Decreasing the Risk of Prostate Cancer, Enjoying a Warm Brew in the Fall--and Guess Who Got Married?

North Creek, New York is a small town nestled in the Adirondacks. We recently visited North Creek for a friend's wedding. A few of us went out and spent an afternoon exploring the town, hiking on the creek-side trails and going to the community art center. Along the way, we ended up at Sarah's Cafe and Bakery, which offers not only coffee and espresso drinks, but also handmade pastries, hearty oatmeal scones, savory soups, and specialty cakes, the coffee was smooth, well brewed, and not too hot or too cold, and it was served with a smile. Not only did it energize me for the hike, but I ended up going back the next day. I felt healthy and happy---not only for myself, but for my friends, Maddi and Reubena, who got married!

Speaking of health….according to research from the Harvard School of Public Health,published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, drinking coffee decreases the risk of dying from prostate cancer. In a study of 47,911 men who drank both regular and decaffeinated coffee, drinking at least 6 cups of coffee a day lowers the risk of developing prostate cancer by 20%. Even more important, this level of coffee consumption reduces the rate of lethal prostate cancer by 60%.

We all want the same things…to be happy and healthy and engaged meaningfully in life. Many of us want really good coffee—and some of us want it all the time.

Happy Thanksgiving and wishes for good health to all!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Coffee plus Jobs is a Good Thing, As is Good Health

I've seen my 3rd grader wearing lots of rubber and elastic bracelets on her wrists. Some say things like "Life!" or "boogie bash 2011"while others are associated with her various affiliations, like School of Rock. Some are hair bands to tie back her hair on the days she does gymnastics. Others are simply for decoration---a bit of glitter here, neon glow for that special nighttime effect. Well now, I have my own bracelet. It says "Indivisible." I got it at Starbucks for $5.00. Starbucks has teamed up with the Opportunity Finance Network to provide financing for community businesses. The goal is simple and straightforward: to create and sustain jobs.

The impulse to do good is a strong one. Sometimes the time and effort seems daunting, but there are avenues to do good and to effect change. Starbucks, which contributed $5 million to jumpstart this project, is at the epicenter of many creative activities and social interactions that lead to solid output and sustained friendships. Why not launch a "grass roots" jobs program harnessing the collective power of the millions and millions of people who go to Starbucks every week, or in some cases every day, or in certain cases, several times a day.

One thing I am learning is that life is fickle. I choose to move through my days being active and alert and alive, but as humans we all contend with the threat of poor health and the randomness of the world around us. Coffee, in my opinion, helps buffer against the stress of that reality. It makes us happier---and healthier.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Let There be Light

For many of us in New Jersey in Montclair and in other towns, a late October unexpected snowstorm has left many without power.

During this time, our neighbors have been like beacons of light. We support each other with a warm smile, a friendly gesture, a helping hand---and often a big cup of coffee!

One beacon in our community has been the Starbucks in Upper Montclair, which is offering wifi and access to endless cups of coffee. Though tempers run short as days go by with no power and people start traipsing off to hotels in Manhattan now that local hotels are full---coffee and espresso drinks offer warmth, comfort and energy.

Here's to a quick recovery, a return to normalcy, and an easy winter. We deserve it.

Also, I'd like to say thank you to the unfailingly polite and professional baristas.

Stay warm---and let there be light!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Coffee Reduces Depression & Suicide---But Why?

Fall 2011: Archives of Internal Medicine publishes a study, which in turn, is picked up by media outlets everywhere. The proclamation: Coffee reduces depression in women!

That’s old news.

What’s new, however, are the data---and the continuation of a longstanding study of women from the Nurses’ Health Study. Researchers found that over a 10-year period, women who drank coffee had less self-reported depression. That is 2 to 3 cups per day was associated with a 15% reduced risk of depression, compared with drinking 1 cup or less. Drinking 4 or more cups increased that benefit---and reduced the risk of depression by 20%.1

For the record, decaffeinated coffee did not have any impact on the risk of depression.

Fifteen years ago, the Archives of Internal Medicine published a similar study. They looked at 86,625 women between the ages of 34 and 59 over a 10-year period. The period of analysis was from 1980 to 1990---and the endpoint was suicide---a very severe outcome associated with depression. In this study, women who drank 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day were 66% less likely to commit suicide, compared with non-coffee drinkers.2

Looking at this data side by side, I was curious about why the researchers were more interested in suicide than depression during the earlier analysis. Depression in the recent study was defined as feeling self-reported depression or being on antidepressants. I suspect---and it’s just a hypothesis—that the widespread availability of antidepressants AND access to coffee in a community setting in places like Starbucks has allowed people to address their depression more effectively than in the past. Good pharmacology and a communal coffee culture has helped ease our pain, be it chemical, existential, or circumstantial.

The idea that coffee helps people be less depressed is intuitively understood by the hundreds of millions of people who enjoy it every day. We are more productive, alert, engaged, and energized for the task at hand. Yes, it is largely due to the caffeine---in fact, 80% of all caffeine consumed is consumed in coffee. But I believe that there’s more: There is the power of community. Drinking coffee together. Then going out for a walk---and enjoying the gifts of the season.

Happy fall, coffee drinkers…as the days get shorter and cooler, join me in drinking lots of hot coffee. Let’s stay happy!


1. Kawachi et al. A prospective study of coffee drinking and suicide in women. Arch Intern Med. 1996;156:521-5.

2. Lucas M et al. Coffee, caffeine, and risk of depression among women. Arch Intern Med. 2011;171:1571-78.