Monday, July 24, 2017

A good gut feeling about coffee---and how to treat difficult intestinal infections

It’s hard not to go down a rabbit hole if you google ‘fecal transplant.’

There’s so much to explore—so many questions to answer. Where does the ‘good’ poop come from? (Other people with healthy microbiomes.) How is it stored? (Different ways—but it should be fresh upon transfer.) How is it transplanted? (Note: Although fecal transplants are generally performed in clinical settings via enema, colonoscopy, or other methods, there’s a burgeoning DIY community.)

Fecal transplant, also known as fecal microbiota transplant (FMT), is intended to reinvigorate the body’s microbiome---the community of thousands of different types of bacteria that reside in the gut.

It’s true: Good health starts in the gut. In fact, the body’s microbiome is the epicenter of our immune system and implicated in everything from obesity, to chronic diseases, to severe gastrointestinal distress and illnesses, to mental illness. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a question of the balance between the good and the bad---bacteria that is.  

The goal of an FMT is to improve the bacterial profile of an individual’s microbiome by transferring healthy bacteria from a person with a healthy biome. During an FMT, more than one thousand bacteria are transferred (by comparison, there are about 30 different bacteria in top-brand probiotics).

The reason that FMT is becoming a household acronym is because it has proven helpful in beating the most persistent, painful and deadly cases of Clostridium Difficile (C diff), a 'bad' bacteria in the gut that causes inflammation and illness. .

C diff cases have been increasing, and the cases tend to be more severe than previously. CDC statistics peg the total number of cases at roughly 500,000 per year, with roughly 15,000 deaths as a result. While C diff is highly infectious and can be transferred simply by touching an infected surface, the real problem is that taking antibiotics can decimate the bacteria that could fight C diff and keep everything in balance, leading to an overabundance of C diff---and all the symptoms that come with it, including constant diarrhea, fever, gastrointestinal pain and profound fatigue.

C diff has replaced MRSA as the most common hospital-acquired infection, so numerous precautions should be taken in hospital settings. But even when there is no imminent threat, it helps to know that things like taking probiotics and drinking coffee can improve the overall profile of your microbiome.

In a study that was published in the International Journal of Microbiology in 2009, researchers found that individuals who drank 3 cups of coffee per day over a 3-week period, had an increase in the metabolic activity in their microbiome, with an increased presence of Bifido Bacterium species---good bacteria. Bifido bacteria coat the lining of the intestines, stimulate the immune system and combat C diff. 

When it comes to being healthy, every little bit helps. So a cup of coffee and a few more Bifido Bacterium swimming around your microbiome are good things.

If you’re interested you can learn more about Clostridium difficile here:

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Are you longing for longer telomeres? Drink coffee

Years from now, it will be clear that 2017 was the beginning of a golden era of genomics. Scientists can now visualize what’s going on in our bodies on a cellular level---with a genomic dimension.

One popular application of this growing knowledge base has been trained on understanding the aging process and attempting to slow it down. Telomeres, the caps on the end of a strand of DNA, are an important biomarker for aging.

The longer they are, the better, because they can better protect chromosomes from being damaged. The longer they are, the longer it takes to get to the DNA---probably one of the reasons that people with longer telomeres live longer.

Numerous studies have shown a link between healthy lifestyle habits (exercise, sufficient sleep, eating lots of vegetables, etc.) and longer telomeres, while stress, smoking, obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise are associated with shorter telomeres.

Researchers, who analyzed data from the Nurses’ Health Study, have determined that drinking coffee can make telomeres longer. This finding syncs up with data from an NIH study that linked coffee to a longer life.

In this 13-year study of roughly 4,000 people (men and women between 50 and 71), drinking four to five cups of coffee per day decreased the risk of death by 16% in women and by 12% in men.
Ongoing research is attempting to find a clinical method to methodically increase the length of telomeres. 

One day, we may be able to take a telomere-enhancing capsules, but until then, we have to focus on lifestyle. Fortunately, some of the best things in life---coffee included---can help us lengthen our telomeres.

May your summer be happy, sunny, productive and full of good coffee!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Life according to Rachel: Coffee first

I was in the park taking a walk last week, and I ran into my friend, Rachel. Rachel is a fellow mom, and also a major force in brand marketing, vlogging and blogging at Truly Rachel about motherhood, fashion, lifestyle and DIY. To say the least, Rachel is dynamic.

Rachel is high energy. It's true, she’s smart, but I know one of her secrets to being so successful and healthy. Take a look at her shirt and you’ll know too.

"BUT FIRST COFFEE" (I liked the shirt so much I was tempted to ask her for it on the spot.)

Rachel’s all about good coffee and lots of it. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that she and I are pretty evenly yoked when it comes to sipping the dark brew and enjoying the roasted green bean.

Fortunately, it’s making us healthier. In fact, coffee is now known to decrease the risk of various types of cancer, in addition to cirrhosis, Alzheimer's disease. diabetes, and even suicide.

I’ve put together an infographic showing how many cups of coffee you need to drink in order to enjoy certain health benefits.

Next up on this blog, I will be discussing new research showing the link between coffee and a decreased risk of hepatitis C. So I'm going to keep this short, because I’ve got to get back to work.

But first: COFFEE. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The best part of wakin' up is Folger's in my cup. Really?

Admittedly, my blog has been moribund lately, compromised by the rapid rush of one ‘real life’ event after another. Nonetheless, I’m still drinking lots of coffee, and I feel better than ever.  But because of a recent coffee-related epiphany, I felt compelled to blog---so thanks for being here today.

First let me just say, coffee by any other name is---coffee. After all, regardless of the brand, the chemical structure of coffee remains intact, along with the healthy polyphenols and other cholinergic acids that contribute to coffee’s healthy effects.

That’s a good thing, considering the fact that I am an avid coffee-drinker, who happens to now be on a considerably more rigorous budget than before. In fact, if you asked me a year ago if I would be writing a blog post praising Folger’s, I would be highly doubtful.

But crazier things have happened.

Folger’s is good. Is it worth waking up for? Yes, it is. Plus I have to wake up anyway. A year ago, Folger’s was some random brand with red packaging found next to Maxwell House. It was the thing you drank at restaurants that served coffee not as a gourmet, $5.00 per cup of perfectly brewed espresso and milk beverage, but as just coffee.

Now, however, I see that the world is bigger than Starbucks, Peete’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and the little indie coffeehouses sprinkled throughout my town (Montclair, NJ). Had I seen that earlier, I could have a lot more savings. Not that I don’t still love Starbucks, but it’s a treat, not a daily ritual---at least for now. And given what I’ve learned, even when I am no longer so tightly budget-bound, I doubt that I will start brewing Starbucks at home because of what I’ve learned in the last 3 months.

I unwittingly chose the #1 brand

I did some research about what other people think about Folger’s. Numerous surveys from the last five years consistently show that Folger’s is the #1 brand in terms of home brewed ground coffee. Its dark roasts are considered reliable and even aromatic---and the price points are perfect for the budget-minded and those with discerning parsimonious instincts.

Earlier this year, SmartAsset ranked Folger’s #3 of five in its list of the top five cheap home-brew coffee brands, while a 2013 Bloomberg Business Week survey showed that Folger’s had a whopping 15.6% market share, compared with Starbucks’ meager 3.3% share.

The same article extrapolated the cost differential between drinking a six-ounce cup of coffee every day for a month---Folger’s versus Starbucks. A massive $25 difference, assuming you only drink six ounces per month. Now extrapolate that out to the average consumption in the U.S., which is 3.3 cups per adult. The cost savings is already moving towards $100, a startling $1,000-plus difference every year.

The Power of Branding the Green Bean

Branding, one of the buzzwords of the twenty-teens is at the heart of the question: “Why am I happy drinking Folger’s when for so long Starbucks was my one-and-only coffee brand , my deepest desire, my everyday habit, my much-needed fix…?”

Because. Branding.

According to Leonard Mlodinow, author of How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior,brand preference is influenced by the confluence of various explicit (the need for coffee) and implicit (the impact of branding on ‘warm and fuzzy’ feelings located in the brain’s ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VPMC), factors. That’s the area of the brain that’s impacted by repetitive exposure to brand images, taglines and commercials. Price is also considered an implicit factor.

The idea of brand differentiation and loyalty as a psychological construct versus a reality is further reinforced by the business side of coffee sales. The corporation Smucker not only owns Folger’s, but it also owns CafĂ© Bustelo and has distribution rights to Dunkin’ Donuts ground coffee in supermarkets.

Same owners, different brands, different target audiences. Branding 101.

The upside of externally imposed thrift

So whatever you call it---thrift, being on a budget, spending less, or whatever, the reality is that one has to spend less money, be more mindful of resources and focus on value above brand consciousness. But there is an upside, as many philosophers and leaders have pointed out.

As Calvin Coolidge said, “Industry, thrift and self-control are not sought because they create wealth, but because they create character.” A sentiment expressed more than a millennium earlier by Cicero, who said: “Cannot people realize how large an increase is thrift?”

And so, as I embraced a ‘less is more’ approach to life out of necessity, I have gained in many ways---I’m much better at money management, grateful for home-brewed coffee that I can afford and enjoy and I’m leaner and lighter from having fewer lattes at night. So, thank you, Folger’s. You truly are worth waking up for. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How much coffee is too much?

If faced with the question, “How much coffee is too much?” many people would rephrase the question:

“Can you ever drink enough coffee?”

The answer, of course, is that how much coffee a person should drink is a completely individual matter. However, the science shows that the most profound clinical benefits of coffee, including living a longer life, don’t kick in until daily consumption hits the three-to-four cup per day level.
In general, the benefits start to drop off at five cups per day, and by day six, the law of declining marginal utility is in full effect.

A group of researchers decided to take on the ‘how much is too much’ issue by conducting a retrospective population-based study.  The data was extrapolated from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study.  The team looked at roughly 40,000 subjects between the ages of 20 and 87. Results were published in Mayo Clinical Proceedings. 

The results showed that 28 cups of coffee per week was the absolute threshold for healthy coffee consumption---at least in people under 55. The results were baffling.

What about all of the data from well-controlled, statistically rigorous studies showing that drinking coffee significantly reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, various types of cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and even gout.

After re-checking their assumptions, the scientists looked more closely at the data, especially the data from the 1970’s. Their goal was to check for confounding factors, meaning things that might skew the data like smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol excessively. Unfortunately the original data set was skewed with coffee drinkers, who also smoked cigarettes---but this confounding factor was not factored into the analysis.

Clearly by age 55, heavy smokers were already starting to die off. So it seems that coffee is beneficial across the board, though there are people who are not constitutionally suited to consume coffee. They are in the minority, but you know when you know. One thing, however, is 100% certain. Smoking cigarettes should be in the ‘never do this’ category.

Here’s to a lot of coffee drinking in 2017!