Category Archives: Science

Health Watch: Aluminum Boilers & Alzheimers

One of the more controversial topics within the discussion of Alzheimer’s is whether or not aluminum has a causal relationship to the development of the disease. Since the first study in the 1960’s that found higher concentrations of aluminum in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s than in the brains of people without the disease, scientist have been exploring the influences and attempting to correlate the two, with contradictory results. To this day, there is not conclusive evidence one way or the other, and the medical community is still very uncertain about whether or not the aluminum found at the center of the plaques which they believe to be the cause of the disease are the cause of the plaques or simply a harmless secondary association.

What does a discussion of neuroscience and disease have to do with coffee? Well, many people are concerned about the uncertain and contradictory information on this topic — one that might be close to home to any of you with an espresso machine or stovetop espresso brewer with an aluminum boiler. Since aluminum is part of the earth’s crust and used in tons of products, from toothpastes to antacids to cookware, it’s difficult to avoid it altogether. But the amount of aluminum that might leach into your espresso during the brewing process is relatively minimal, if any, than you would intake normally, so it’s likely not much of a concern.

While the jury is still out on whether or not aluminum is a contributing factor to developing Alzheimer’s, or just coincidentally happens to be along for the ride, you’re probably pretty safe to continue enjoying your delicious espresso — aluminum boiler or not.

Health Watch: Caffeine & Pregnancy

Two universities in the UK have determined that excessive amounts of caffeine during pregnancy can impact the weight of the child as it’s developing, putting some babies at risk of a low birth weight.

What do we mean by excessive? Well, the study found that the babies of mothers who drank the equivalent of 3 or more cups of coffee each day tracked to a lower weight during each trimester of development. A low birth rate has been linked to health issues such as diabetes or heart disease later in life, so it’s important that a baby is born within the healthy range.

While the study has confirmed a link between caffeine and fetal development issues, scientists don’t think this should inspire pregnant mothers to abstain from all caffeine intake. Other health benefits still exist and a mother limiting her coffee to 1 cup per day should have no concern.

To Milk or Not to Milk

American coffee drinkers are often looked down upon because of their proclivity for adulterating their coffee drinks with a healthy dose of milk. Sometimes attributed to the fact that the coffee itself is inferior to coffee you might find in, say, Italy, the practice actually extends throughout northern Europe as well.

So why do you find heavily dairy-dependent drinks in France, Austria or Switzerland and virtually  none in Italy or Turkey? It might not actually be due to the coffee itself, but more related to evolutionary genetics.

It has been measured that lactose intolerance is high among Mediterranean peoples, specifically Italians, who have centered most of their dairy intake around mature cheeses — a process which virtually removes the offending sugar, lactose. At birth and through the first years of our life, we produce an enzyme called lactase, which helps break down and metabolize this sugar in our digestive system. Theoretically, through sustained non-human milk drinking well into adulthood generation after generation, a genetic mutation developed which resulted in the continued production of lactase as adults. There are several different regions around the world that exhibit this type of mutation, and each of them have documented cultural drivers that would have required them to ingest raw or unprocessed non-human milk as an important part of their caloric intake as adults.

If a latte or cafe au lait is your caffeinated drink of choice, don’t let anyone make you think your preference is the result of an undeveloped palette. Your taste may instead be the result of thousands of years of evolution, so drink up!

Health Watch: Coffee & Relationships

An intriguing new study from the University of Colorado indicates that warm drinks lend themselves to more friendly feelings. Participants in the study were randomly given hot cups of coffee or glasses of iced coffee, then asked to assess the relative warmth of a series of fictional characters. The result was that they were 11% more likely to rate a complete stranger as welcoming or trustworthy if the participant had been holding a warm beverage versus a cold beverage.

Psychologists attribute this to possible early conditioning in infancy, when bonding and trust building with our parents could have been in an environment of warm bodily temperature — just think of all those baby blankets! — so that we are more likely to associate the actual physical temperature with the relative warmth and openness of someone’s personality.

Whatever the root cause, it’s clear that the age old practice of socializing over a hot cup of coffee helps build and expand on the warm bonds of friendship — so why not invite your friends (or someone new) over for an espresso today?

Health Watch: Caffeine & Alzheimer’s

We just read this fascinating article about a study from earlier this year that indicates regular coffee consumption can decrease the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s later in life.

Researchers found that caffeine may cut the risk of dementia because of its ability to block the adverse affects of high cholesterol on the body’s systems — one of which may be the break down of the blood/brain barrier that protects our brain tissue from potentially harmful chemicals in our bloodstream. There have been previous studies to indicate that the break down of this barrier may contribute to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The research centered on rabbits, which were given a high cholesterol diet over a 12 week period, some of which were also given the equivalent of one cup of coffee per day. At the end of the trial, researchers found that the blood/brain barrier in the rabbits that had the coffee supplement was far less deteriorated than the rabbits with no supplement. The results of this research are a very interesting step in determining both new restoration therapies and preventative

So sip your daily joe knowing that it’s not only delicious — it’s brain food!

Get Involved with Sustainable Coffee

Have you ever thought about taking a volunteer vacation? You know the kind, where you give a little while you get a little? Earthwatch has some of the most amazing working vacations available, all concentrated on working with scientists and researchers to measure, examine, explore and understand nature and our place within it.

If you’re a coffee connoisseur, planning a trip to learn about how you can help in the development of sustainable coffee agriculture could bring more meaning — and adventure! — to your daily mug. Earthwatch offers a 15-day expedition in Costa Rica where you assist in field experiments to improve the ecological sustainability of shade-grown coffee. The research station is located in one of our favorite spots on earth — the breathtaking Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve — and involves hiking to different coffee plantations and collecting data for the experiment. They currently have stints planned for the first half of this December, or a few next year in March, July and November.

Please let us know if you choose to go — we’d love to hear all about your experience!

Health Watch: Caffeine & Breast Cancer

A new joint study out of Harvard and Tokyo indicates that caffeine consumption may not be a strict carcinogen. It found no statistically reliable evidence that drinking coffee increases overall breast cancer risk, but it did find data regarding how it effects pre-existing breast tissue conditions, requiring further study.

The researchers reviewed the medical and dietary records of nearly 40,000 women since a baseline taken between 1992 – 1995, and examined the commonalities between their dietary intake and the development of breast cancer. They were unable to find any statistical¬† proof that caffeine did in fact increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, but they did notice that those with higher caffeine intake (more than 4 cups per day) did experience adverse effects in the state of pre-existing benign breast disease and tumors.

While it appears that minimal intake my not increase your risk — if you’re a coffee lover with a history of breast cancer in your family, it might be a good idea to switch to decaf (just to be on the safe side!).

It Starts with Great Coffee

Coffee Cherry Plant
Coffee is the second highest traded commodity in the world — with oil being number one. These delicious beans come to us from gorgeous little cherries grown on coffee plantations around the world and can vary in flavor from smooth chocolate to spicy loam. You can learn a lot more about the history, agriculture, processing, science and tastes of coffee in our article It Starts with Great Coffee. Educate yourself on the diverse delicacy of this delectable bean and we promise your favorite java will never taste the same way again!