Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hello Longer Life, Goodbye Confounding Factors

Last Monday, I woke up to an amazing cup of hot Gevalia bold, as well as a bold ‘more good news about coffee' headline strewn across social media.

Per the NYT (9-16-15): “Well: Coffee tied to lower risk of dying prematurely.”

The story was picked up everywhere. After years of reading one coffee study after another suggesting that coffee has health benefits of some sort, the results of this observational, Harvard-based study with more than 200,000 individuals included as part of the analysis, were undeniable:

3 facts: Coffee is good for you. Not drinking coffee is worse than drinking coffee. Coffee-drinkers are healthier and live longer.

This study, which was published by Dr. Ming Ding and his colleagues at Harvard in this month’s issue of Circulation analyzed 30 years of data---enough time to know whether a person lived a long life or died prematurely.

More coffee equals more life
The results in short:
·         One to 3 cups of coffee per day=8% reduced risk of death
·         Three to 5 cups=15% reduced risk of death
·         5+ cups=12% reduced risk of death

Specifically, higher levels of coffee consumption were correlated with lower levels of death from heart disease, stroke, neurological diseases, diabetes and suicide.

The smoking factor
When Dr. Ming and his colleagues looked at the data head-on, the benefits associated with coffee were modest. For example, preliminary results showed that people drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day had a 7% lower risk of dying.

But---and this is a very important ‘but’---when the researchers took smokers out of the equation, suddenly the longevity benefits associated with coffee consumption emerged. Even smokers benefited modestly from coffee, but only a little and not significantly compared with non-coffee drinkers.

Why? Because the effect of smoking (and the related increased risk of death) is so powerful that it trumps the effects of potentially health-enhancing behaviors, including drinking coffee.

Confounding factors
Smoking is what is known as a ‘confounding factor,’ meaning it skews clinical trial data and needs to be taken out in order to see the picture more clearly. For years, during the 1800’s and 1900’s, there were numerous studies showing that coffee was bad for health, and could lead to cancer, heart attack and even death.

Then statisticians and other quants started to notice blips in the data that were too obvious to ignore. They started to parse the data more carefully and factor in the role that confounding factors play in any health-related study. Suddenly a different picture emerged---and along with it a growing evidence base extolling the health benefits of coffee.

So now we know.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Coffee-Questing: A Mad Dash to Moon Doggie

Mid-November has been unseasonably warm---much to the delight of people everywhere grappling with the inevitable darkness that comes with the onset of winter, as well as the bleak darkness of the current news cycle. We can only speculate that among the 127 people killed in Paris last Friday, some of them were out enjoying a cup of coffee, while basking in the splendor of an unseasonably warm Parisian evening. It was in the midst of this everyday joy that tragedy struck. We also know that undoubtedly among those also killed by terrorists in Lebanon and Kenya recently, there were also many coffee-lovers.

While lots of commentary has been focused on the horrors of terrorism and the tenuous quality of day-to-day life, we will add to the cacophony by saying how precious life is. Even the opportunity to grab a cup of coffee from a renowned small cafe in Maywood, NJ on a balmy Monday night is special---a chance to simply be a coffee-loving human sharing a universally beloved brew on the first day of the workweek, well that's something wonderful.

A Moon Doggie Monday

On Monday, November 15, a friend of mine and a fellow blogger, George, suggested that I join him on a short trip from Montclair to Maywood to try the coffee at Moon Doggie. George is on a quasi-quixotic quest to visit the 98 coolest coffee shops in New Jersey (based on a NJ Monthly Magazine round-up). So far, he's hit about 35---and I was honored to accompany him to #36.

En route to Moon Doggie, George offhandedly suggested that I check the closing time. Experience has taught George that neighborhood coffee shops tend to close on the early side, especially during the week. We cut it close, but we were determined to get there before it closed at 5 pm. We made it with three minutes to spare.

Moon Doggie is an unassuming, independently owned neighborhood coffee shop in a pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare with head-on parking. Once inside, we noticed the eclectic decor and the comforting icons of coffee-drinking---mugs, pastries and muffins, mid-century consumer art and pop culture that celebrates the American coffee-drinking experience. Being Americans who like to drink coffee, we decided to partake.

Self-serve coffee for the coffee connoisseur

Once Dave the barista handed us our cups, we headed over to the deceptively straightforward coffee-dispensing canisters. George found the Guatemalan coffee to be flavorful and sufficiently hot in contrast to the New Moon Coffee, which was not hot enough. Nonetheless, the New Moon coffee was redeemed by its smooth, spicy body.

I agreed wholeheartedly with George's assessment, so I had a bit of both and left with a cup of hot Guatemalan. We also shared a pumpkin spice muffin, which was huge, homemade, healthfully concocted and the perfect blend of pumpkin and spice.

The takeaway

Overall, it was worth the hustle that it took to get there. In addition to the friendly neighborhood vibe and the accommodating barista, Moon Doggie gave us a warm spot to chill and enjoy a good cup of coffee, if only for a few precious minutes.

Next time you're in Maywood, check out Moon Doggie!