"To Drink or
Not to Drink"
by Dr. C. K. Wong,
.... your cup of coffee.
Wong's advice won't make you live longer, but you'll enjoy a lot more
of it less. In the 19th Century R.L. Stevenson wrote The Strange Case
of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Here for the 21st Century is the Strange
Case of Dr. Wong vs. Mr. Coffee.
Raise your cup!
study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association
suggested that a daily indulgence in coffee may reduce the risk of
Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's disease is a disease of the nervous
system that causes a slow and gradual loss of motor function. It is
estimated (i.e. medical parlance for "we guess") that the prevalence
of this disease is between 60 to 187 per 100,000 population. We don't
really know what causes this disease, but genetic/hereditary factors
probably aren't too important, as only 5% of patients have a family
history of the disease. This observation of possible (please notice
I say "possible") beneficial, or salutary, effects of coffee comes
from a study involving more than 8,000 men of Japanese ethnicity living
in Hawaii. There are 102 cases of PD identified. Here is the good
news for Java addicts: those men who drink one or two four-ounce cups
of coffee a day are half as likely to have PD as the non-coffee drinkers.
Those REAL coffee drinkers, who drink 7 or more 4-ounce cups a day
are 5 times less likely to have PD than those with tight lips. But,
Java addicts, don't get excited too fast, (if you're not already hyped-up
by the coffee), in medicine, as in Life, there are always different
ways of looking at one thing.
First, if you have already pulled out your calculator and have done
a little math, the prevalence of PD in this group of men is greater
than 1,200 per 100,000. Something is odd here, though I don't know
what. Secondly, caffeine, the stuff you Java addicts are craving,
or, have developed a deep appreciation for, is a chemical that, among
many other things, affects the so-called dopamine system of
the brain. Well, guess what also affects this system? You're right.
There is no escaping the truth: amphetamines and cocaine. Got you!
In PD, this "dopamine system" suffers from deterioration. Therefore,
caffeine may be enhancing the function of the dopamine system, and
is treating (as a medicine), or masking the symptoms of the disease.
Of course, it is also possible that daily consumption of coffee does
somehow preserve and protect the dopamine system against development
of PD. Thirdly, this study involves only Japanese men, no women, or
other ethnicities of coffee appreciators. On the other hand, since
we still have no known way of preventing Parkinson's disease... drink
up! a votre sante.
not so fast!
your blood pressure! Four to five cups of coffee a day may
raise your blood pressure by 5 points, an increase that could increase
your risk of stroke. Whether coffee would increase the risk
of heart attack is not that clear. One would expect so. But
the information from a study of more than 121,000 female nurses
does not show any relationship between coffee consumption and heart
attack (and who is going to argue with 121,000 female nurses high
on caffeine? Have you ever tried to argue with one nurse high on
caffeine?). But female nurses are, (how should I put this?) special
(I want to be able to leave the hospital or my office tomorrow in
one piece with my skin intact). Would this observation apply to
male nurses? To Japanese-Hawaiian American men? To Caucasian males
who's German ancestry traces from Germany to Connecticut to Florida
And watch your cholesterol! Coffee consumption has been shown
to increase LDL cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol (think of "lousy"
for the "L" in LDL, and "healthy" for the "H" in HDL). It turns
out that probably it is the bad stuff in unfiltered coffee that
is the main culprit. So, this is not good news for those who appreciate
boiled, plunged, or percolated coffee; really bad news for Middle
Eastern, Egyptian, and Turkish coffee aficionados. Preparing coffee
with good paper or a gold filter would remove most of the offending
chemicals that are thought to be the culprit.
So, drink up.... your cup of filtered coffee...
not so fast!
you are pregnant, which those Hawaiian Japanese men didn't
have to worry about, you may want to limit your coffee appreciation
as much as possible. There are some studies that suggest that 6 or
more cups of coffee daily increases the risk of miscarriage and low-birth-weight
babies. We don't know if lesser coffee consumption would have the
same risks or not. Some researchers have criticized that these findings
or conclusions are flawed. At any rate, before there is more data,
I would say it is prudent to limit your coffee appreciation during
Over the years, there has been much talk about coffee and cancer.
The bottom line is, there is no convincing data so far to support
a relationship between coffee, caffeine, and cancer. You could relax
your grip on that cup a little bit now, but you may not be able to
do so due to all that Java in your bloodstream. For women who are
concerned about fibrocystic breast disease (some doctors advocate
not using the term "disease" for this condition as, although it may
be quite annoying, it is a benign condition), there is no evidence
that coffee consumption increases the risk of developing a fibrocystic
For those who appreciate coffee a lot, or many times a day, it may
be a good idea to take calcium supplements, as coffee causes
you to eliminate calcium in your urine. Yes, you urinate more calcium
if you drink coffee, no kidding.
Now, let us appreciate our one 4-ounce cup of filtered coffee a
day. Let us perform this one daily ritual that defies differences
in ethnic origins, nationalities, religious believes (at least for
most religions), and political bends. Let us appreciate this one thing
that we can all do in peace and contentment.
© Dr. C. K. Wong, M.D.
.... I want you
to know that the Strange Case of Dr. Wong and Mr. Coffee is good.
What a concept: a medical doctor who presents, in living black and
white, information worth knowing, in terms that make sense; a doctor
doesn't come across as somebody auditioning for the part of Henny
Penny or somebody with "Starbuck" in their last name. As I am a devout
and practicing hypochondriac (and have been so long enough to have
picked up a thing or two, and I'm not talking 'things' you take care
of with a shooter of penicillin, know what I mean, Bubba, get where
I'm comin' from?), I have been exposed to a generous share of the
medical "mumbo unless it's jumbo, or perhaps it's gumbo" rap. I can
hardly wait until tomorrow morning so I can really kick back and enjoy
my one medically-allowed mug of coffee in the a.m. with a clear conscience.
(Note: I've used a "gold" filter for years and recommend it without
reservation.) - M Jarvis, September 11, 2000