Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Drinking lots of coffee is linked to a longer life

This article originally appeared on Yahoo! (Koren Miller, August 28, 2017) 

Coffee drinkers swear that their hot beverage is a lifesaver, and new research has found that they may actually be onto something.

According to a study recently presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, people who drink large amounts of coffee (four cups or more) have a lower risk of death than their less caffeinated peers. For the study, researchers studied cohort data of nearly 20,000 individuals with an average age at enrollment of 37.7 years old. When people entered the study, they answered a questionnaire about how much coffee they drank, lifestyle and social factors, body measurements, and information about past health conditions.

Study participants had follow-ups about their health after about 10 years. During that time period, 337 of them died. The researchers found that people who had a least four cups of coffee a day were 64 percent less likely to die of any cause during that time period than people who said they never or almost never drank coffee.

The researchers also looked at whether a person’s sex, age, or diet played a role and found that for those who were at least 45 years old and drank two additional cups of coffee a day had a 30 percent lower mortality risk during the 10-year follow-up. However, this link wasn’t found with younger study participants. As a result, the researchers concluded that drinking four cups of coffee a day can be part of a healthy diet.

The study was observational, which means researchers can’t actually prove that drinking coffee extends your life — just that there’s a link between drinking coffee and living longer. That’s important, Michael Chan, MD, an interventional cardiologist with St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., tells Yahoo Beauty. “While this is an interesting study, it … doesn’t prove any causation, just correlation,” he says. Meaning, while it’s possible that coffee may extend your life, it’s also possible that people who live longer just really like to drink a lot of coffee.

But women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, tells Yahoo Beauty that she’s not surprised by the findings. “We’ve heard so many mixed things about coffee drinking over the last decade, but many of the more recent studies have touted the many health benefits of consuming coffee,” she says.
One massive study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in July found that heavy coffee drinkers had a significantly lower risk of dying from any cause than those who weren’t hooked on java. Another study published in the same journal in early August looked at more than 185,000 African-Americans, Native Americans, Hawaiians, Japanese-Americans, Latinos, and Caucasians, and found that drinking coffee was generally correlated with a longer life (an association that wasn’t found for Hawaiians, though). The study’s researchers found that people who drank two to four cups a day in particular had an 18 percent lower risk of death compared with people who weren’t coffee drinkers.

These aren’t the only pro-coffee studies out there. A 2015 study published in the journal Circulation analyzed the coffee drinking habits of more than 208,000 people over 30 years and found that those who drank one to five cups of decaf or regular coffee a day had a lower risk of mortality than those who didn’t. Coffee drinkers were also less likely to die from heart disease, neurological diseases, type 2 diabetes, and suicide. And a meta-analysis of 36 studies published in the journal Circulation in 2014 also found that people who drink three to five cups of coffee a day had the lowest risk of developing heart disease.

But again, none of these studies have been able to prove that drinking coffee actually makes you healthier, just that there is a link.

“It’s much more likely that it’s association than it is causation,” David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Beauty. “Very healthy people tend to drink lots of caffeine.” Cutler says he suspects that coffee drinkers’ diet, lifestyle factors, and other healthy behaviors are the main reasons they’re living longer — not the coffee itself.

However, Wider points out that coffee has antioxidants that play an important role in disease prevention, which may explain part of the link between coffee and living a longer life. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should take up a coffee habit in an effort to be healthier (especially given that the caffeine in it isn’t recommended for people with certain health conditions, like heart arrhythmias). But if you’re already a huge coffee fan, it’s nice to know you can keep on doing what you’re doing — and it may even be good for you.

David's Commentary

The authors here are correct. The study was observational, thus one cannot say that the cause of living longer was the result of drinking coffee. However, this study just adds to an ever-growing list of studies that support essentially the same conclusion -- coffee consumption is generally healthy. Check out our previous blog post on coffee that highlights other studies demonstrating the beneficial effects of coffee consumption regarding diabetes, cancer, and oral health. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Most dietary supplements are useless — here are the ones you should take

This article originally appeared on Business Insider
Erin Brodwin and Skye Gould
The idea of a pill that can improve your overall health is an appealing one.

Unfortunately, no matter how colorful their packaging or hopeful their messaging, most vitamins and supplements fall prey to the same problem: We simply do not need them to be healthy. Some supplements — particularly those marketed for physical enhancement — can cause real harm.
However, there are a select few supplements which research suggests may provide certain benefits — especially for people who do not get a particular nutrient in their diet, who may be pregnant, or who do a specific kind of workout. With that in mind, take a look at the supplements you should take — and the ones you should avoid.

David's Commentary

The advice here is oversimplified and misguided.  

We get vitamin D from our diets, but our bodies also create our own vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. The effects of vitamin D supplementation remains uncertain, and as far as I know, there is no solid evidence that proves vitamin D supplementation will actually improve bone health and/or prevent osteoporosis. 

Creatine is a workout booster (which is listed in the ‘avoid’ category). Personally, I didn’t find creatine to be all that effective, plus it can make you feel bloated. Like other workout boosters, creatine can be laced with other ingredients or impurities. I found caffeine to be far superior for workouts.

The advice to avoid ginseng, tea extract, gingko biloba, and other vitamins and herbs is a powerful statement. When you look at the scientific studies, the results are a mixed bag. Sometimes benefits are seen, whereas other studies show no improvement over placebo. 

I used to work in a lab that quantified the various ingredients in supplements such as ginseng and tea extract. We found tremendous variability when you looked at different brands. Most companies will try to standardize the amount of a particular ingredient that they think is most responsible for the physiological benefits, but there are so many pharmacologically active molecules in these supplements that we still don’t know everything about each individual ingredient. This makes it tremendously difficult when you compare clinical studies because the differences in efficacy can likely be attributed to the differences in the composition and dose of the supplement itself. In other words, one brand of ginseng might work far better for you than a different brand.

Most weight loss formulations are diuretics. So basically these are just fancy caffeine pills that make you pee a lot, and yes you will lose weight but it is all water weight. There are other weight loss formulations that work through other methods, but the benefits are so minor that they aren’t worth taking in my opinion.

Overall, I think that all supplements should be avoided unless absolutely necessary or recommended by your doctor. Otherwise, we get all the nutrition we need from a proper diet. Instead of tea extract, brew an actual cup of tea and drink it. For herbal supplements, I would say that if they work for you and there are no issues, then there’s not any real reason to stop. I used to take ginseng pills for energy and they worked very well, but I found coffee to be just as effective, more enjoyable, and it just feels more natural. It’s worth noting also that herbal supplements are notorious for drug-drug interactions with many commonly prescribed medications, so make sure to discuss with your doctor to avoid adverse drug reactions.