Category Archives: Science

Health Watch: Caffeine & Asthma

Researchers at Indiana University have found that caffeine is as effective as an albuterol inhaler in preventing exercise induced asthma (EIA). When they combined the use of both caffeine and the inhaler, however, no additional benefits were noted.

A dosage equivalent to the amount of 9mg of caffeine per kilogram of weight was found to ease the symptoms of EIA in a manner similar to inhalers, and smaller amounts (3mg – 6mg/per kilogram) reduced the coughing, wheezing and other EIA symptoms, while not eradicating them completely.

The study’s subjects ingested differing amounts of caffeine one hour prior to running on a treadmill and their pulmonary condition was monitored 15 minutes before they started to run and then at different intervals afterward. The differing dosages were deemed to provide varying levels of relief from the symptoms, with 9mg functioning on par with the performance of an inhaler.

This study is part of a larger analysis of nutritional modifications that can be made in place of the corticosteroid used to alleviate EIA on a long-term basis. Other beneficial dietary habits found to reduce the severity of EIA include increasing fish oil and antioxidant intake while reducing salt. Researchers are interested in finding other methods for controlling or eliminating EIA without using pharmaceuticals because of the concern over long-term use and the decrease in efficacy after using the medications for prolonged periods.

Caffeine-Free Coffee Plant

Arizona State Univeristy’s International Institute for Species Exploration released their 2009 top 10 new species, including a new strain of the coffee plant that is naturally caffeine-free.

Dubbed Coffea charrieriana, this wild species was found in the diverse growing region of Cameroon and will likely be experimented with to determine if a palatable, naturally-caffeine free brew can be made from its cherries.

Given that caffeine is considered to be the primary pest-repellent in coffee plants the world over, it’s quite impressive that this little guy has developed in the wild. Caffeine is also responsible for much of the bitter flavor in coffee, and species such as Robusta, which have significantly higher caffeine quantities than Arabica species, are known to be less palatable and more harsh to the taste. Perhaps this new species will produce a coffee that is smoother and better suited to tasting the full spectrum of flavor inherent to this little bean.

Zombie-Proof Film Developing

It’s important for all of us to take a step back, assess our particular activities in life and try to plan around how to handle them in the midst of a zombie attack. You might think we’re joking, but we’re not.

First on our list is to make sure that, should said zombie attack take place, we’ll still be able to develop the film from our trusty 35mm SLR camera. After all, how else will we be able to fondly look back at fighting off zombies and putting our loved ones out of their crazed misery if we don’t have any snapshots that document the experience? Sure, most of you might use digital cameras these days, but we have a special throwback love for SLRs that will probably never die — zombie infestation or not.

So you can imagine our glee upon reading about the chemical reaction qualities of instant coffee and vitamin C and how they can be used to develop film. Sure, we generally leave instant coffee related items off this blog because they’re comparatively gauche, but we have to admit that any aforementioned zombie attacks may separate us from our beloved espresso machine(s) and we might have to rough it a bit. Thankfully, now we have a handy guide to refer to whilst developing our bloodcurdling film.

Health Watch: Coffee & Liver Disease

Good news for all you coffee lovers out there:multiple studies indicate coffee has liver protective benefits.

Dr. Sanjiv Chopra regularly quizzes his patients about their coffee intake and, if it’s not contraindicated due to other conditions, he recommends they incorporate about 2 cups of coffee per day as a preventative therapy. The evidence which swayed Dr. Chopra’s practice includes:

  • People who drink 2 cups of coffee each day had a 50% reduction in hospitalization and mortality from chronic liver disease
  • Two cups of coffee per day decreases the incidence of primary liver cancer by 43%
  • 1 cup of coffee per day can equal a 20% reduction in their risk of developing alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver — and two cups will reduce that risk by 40%

Similar effects weren’t found in tea or decaf coffee, so the metabolic cause of this protective behavior is still being studied. And no, this doesn’t give you license to down numerous coffee-and-alcohol bombs, seemingly yet another example of the sage advice to do everything in moderation.

For the Birds

A couple of interesting articles that caught our eye recently are in regard to how coffee agriculture and birds interact.

The first, written about a biologist’s plea for people to purchase shade-grown coffee, talks about the effects that growing coffee in full sun (for increased production) have had on the migratory bird population in Vermont. The plantations they’re referencing are specifically in Central America, where historically coffee was grown under a tree canopy to help protect it from winds and pests. These older growth forests and complex ecosystems were inhabited by birds from North America as part of their migration pattern, but as the birds continue to fly south for the winter, their previous hospitable digs are being systematically cleared in favor of larger plantations. The use of heartier (more Robusta?) strains of coffee plants and pesticides are eliminating the need for the protection of a towering forest and increasing output, which farmers understandably love.

On the other side of the Atlantic, however, the story is quite different: Recent research reveals that the shade-grown coffee may be adversely affecting the bird populations of Ethiopia. The study researchers suggest that moving farming to open farmland and leaving the forest canopies alone for awhile may actually increase the bird populations in this area. One major benefit of shade-grown coffee is that the birds assist in pest control, reducing or eliminating the need for pesticides. It would be a shame to move coffee agriculture to an open prairie that would require chemical pest control, so we love the suggestion that tree planting should be part of this process. Instead of just plowing down the forest, plant coffee and trees elsewhere and, perhaps, significantly increase the habitable footprint available to more birds.

What these two articles demonstrate is the need for regionally-based agricultural and environmental impact studies that enable us to keep our world filled with all of the vibrant and lovely animals that keep it balanced. It’s a difficult prospect, however, given that coffee cultivation often takes place in some of the poorest countries in the world — and starving families understandably don’t really care about how their ability to feed themselves will reduce the number of woodthrush in Vermont.

Health Watch: Coffee & Strokes

A recent analysis of the much-lauded Nurses Health Study (which followed over 80,000 US women for nearly 25 years to document their lifestyles and health conditions) found a preliminary correlation between coffee consumption and a reduced risk of stroke.

Performed by members of the Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, the analytical study found that women who lived a healthy lifestyle (particularly, non-smokers) and drank 4 or more cups of coffee each day had a 20% lower risk of stroke. Since it tracked the intake of several types of beverages that contained caffeine such as tea and sodas, the study was able to focus in on the effect of drinking coffee itself, meaning that the benefit is likely not sourced in caffeine but another molecular attribute unique to coffee.

Since the study is just out and will no doubt go through further analysis, it opens up an interesting discussion around diet and behavior — namely, do women who drink coffee at this level share anything else in common, specifically in regard to physical activity? The study authors are careful to note that this is just the first stage of analysis and that further research will be done in an attempt to determine the exact source of the benefit.

Bodum Shin Bistro French Press Wins 2008 Good Design Award

Bodum’s awesome Shin Bistro double-walled French press was awarded the coveted 2008 Good Design award from the Chicago Athenaeum — one of three of their double-walled, borosilicate glassware to be bestowed this prestigious honor.

French press coffee is not only some of the most delicious coffee available, it’s also probably the “greenest” — since it doesn’t use electricity to brew, it’s a great method for home use…and we love to take ours camping! The double wall provides increased thermal regulation and keeps the outside cool to the touch.

Also, borosilicate is the glass used in test tubes and beakers, so you can really drop some science when you brew up coffee for your pals (sorry).

Amp Up Your Ink

Just in from the ‘Green for Green Sake’ department, a new printer that uses coffee or tea dregs in the printer cartridge. The dreamchild of Korean designer Jeon Hwan Ju, this sepia-toned gadget utilizes a mixture of old coffee grounds or tea leaves and water and is powered by your brute force.

While form is definitely outweighing function here, in our opinion, this is a great step in a lovely-scented new direction and may be the basis for further development of more automated methods for using ink alternatives (and supporting more homegrown recycling methods) in printers and faxes.

Nevertheless, it’s nice to see coffee expanding it’s expressive scope from just accidental mug circles and spills to work histories and haiku.

Health Watch: Caffeine & Memory

We love the taste, we love the perk — now we can love caffeine for one more reason: A memory boost. A few years ago, researchers in Austria found that caffeine improved the short-term recall in participants. Subjects were given either 100mg of caffeine or a placebo, then they were given MRIs and asked to recall a series of numbers shown to them shortly before. The scans showed more activity in the areas related to attention and short-term memory in participants who had the caffeine dose instead of the placebo.

In another study, researchers found that caffeine may assist in memory attention and cognitive ability in women over the age of 65. While it doesn’t stave off the development of dementia, it does appear to slow down the process. In fact, the improvement got significantly better with age: Coffee drinkers were 30% less likely to have a decline in memory at the age of 65 and 70% less likely over the age of 80!

Caffeine: The Dirty Truth

Will that ink black cup of coffee really get you on the straight and narrow after you’ve seen the bottom of a few too many shots of Patron? Or is your daily cup of joe really dehydrating you while perking you up?

WebMD examined 8 different common beliefs about caffeine and compared them against available studies to determine if they were fact or fiction. If you’re wondering if you’re working under any misconceptions about the brew, check out their opinions.

Oh, and that sobering up bit? Sorry…no:
Actually, research suggests that people only think caffeine helps them sober up. For example, people who drink caffeine along with alcohol think they’re OK behind the wheel. But the truth is reaction time and judgment are still impaired. College kids who drink both alcohol and caffeine are actually more likely to have car accidents.