What's special about coffee?
There is scientific evidence for an astonishing number of almost-medicinal uses of coffee. Here's a quick review of what is in the scientific literature. Nothing here says coffee is a miracle and no one needs medicine, but there are many, many conditions for which coffee is very, very helpful.
Aging skin. There is a good collection of evidence that coffee extracts included in skin care products can restore elasticity to the skin and smooth out wrinkles, although it is not known whether coffee has a similar effect. Drinking coffee with lots of sugar, however, is not beneficial to the skin.
Allergies. There have been precise, laboratory measurements of decreased production of inflammatory markers in the lungs after consumption of the Middle Eastern coffee beverage qahwa (coffee flavored with ginger, saffron, and cardamom). The effects of drinking this beverage were roughly equivalent to using an antihistamine without the side effects. The effect does not seem to be due to caffeine, but whether the strongest contributions to the beneficial effect come from the coffee or the spices has not yet been determined.
Asthma. Drinking a cup of regular (but not decaf) coffee helps asthmatics exhale a greater volume of air for about four hours. There are similar affects for a variety of caffeinated beverages, but coffee is the best studied.
Cardiac arrhythmias. Large-scale studies have not found a link between coffee or caffeine and problems with heart rhythms, although there are reports of problems with energy drinks.
• Bladder cancer. Researchers at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Institute in Texas report that drinking more decaffeinated coffee is associated with a slightly higher risk of bladder cancer, although drinking regular coffee is not.
• Breast cancer in women. Recent studies have found that drinking 5 or more cups of coffee per day gives women about a 20% reduction in the risk of developing any kind of breast cancer, but a 57% reduction in risk of developing the kinds of breast cancer that are accelerated by estrogen.
• Colon cancer. A study of diet and cancer in Japan found that men and women who drank the least or the most coffee (no coffee at all up to 1 cup a day, or more than 4 cups a day), had higher rates of colon cancer.
• Endometrial cancer. Coffee protects against endometrial cancer, but only caffeinated coffee, and only in women who are obese and who consume 4 or more cups of coffee per day, and only against type 1 (estrogen-fueled) endometrial cancer. In these women, coffee reduced the risk of the disease about 50%.
• Liver cancer. When the results of studies from 1966 to 2012 were combined in a meta-analysis, the statistical result was that drinking any coffee at all reduces the risk of liver cancer by about 40%. Coffee is known to slow down the progression of cirrhosis of the liver to cancer, but it is possible, the authors note, that people who have advanced liver disease drink less coffee.
• Pancreatic cancer. Drinking coffee does not have a measurable effect on the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, although “low consumption” (1 cup a day or less) was associated with a higher risk of being diagnosed with the disease before surgery and then being found not to have it.
• Prostate cancer. Once prostate cancer has occurred, drinking coffee slows or stops its progression. When epidemiologists compared men in King County, Washington who drank no coffee or only 1 cup a day with me who drank 4 or more cups of coffee per day, all the men already having prostate cancer, the men who drank the most coffee were 59% less likely to experience progression of the disease, or recurrence of the disease once it had been treated.
• Skin cancer. Once someone has had basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, consuming caffeine protects against recurrence of the cancer. Australian scientists found that getting the caffeine equivalent of four cups of coffee per day reduced the risk of these kinds of skin cancers' coming back by 25%. Another group of researchers reporting findings in Frontiers of Oncology explain that caffeine helps stop the cancer-causing effects of UV-B rays of sunlight.
• Thyroid cancer. Coffee consumption does not seem to be related to the risk of thyroid cancer.
Colds. In a British clinical trial, both regular and decaffeinated coffee, drunk hot, relieved congestion, muscle pain, and fatigue in people who had colds.
After care of colds and flu. A study in Iran found that coffee and honey, rather than tea and honey, was the most effective remedy for persistent cough after upper respiratory infections, a better cough remedy even than steroid medications.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A study of over 8,000 men and women in Japan found that coffee had no relationship to GERD or heartburn. There have been some studies that found that evidence of GERD from endoscopy is slightly more common in coffee drinkers, but studies that looked at symptoms, rather than medical confirmation of the disease, found no difference between drinking coffee and not.
Gout. Drinking coffee and other caffeinated beverages protects against developing gout, at least in women, a 26-year followup of 89,143 women in the Nurses Health Study found. Consumers of 2 or more cups a day were about 50% less likely to develop this painful, debilitating condition. Earlier, smaller studies have found a similar protective benefit for coffee against gout in men.
High blood pressure. Most clinical trials have found that drinking a cup of coffee is associated with a small increase in blood pressure, typically 1-2 “points.” However, the coffee chemical chlorogenic acid lowers blood pressure, typically 1-2 points. Drinking the first cup of coffee raises blood pressure, slightly, and drinking the second or third, or taking a green coffee bean extract supplement lowers it, typically 1-2 “points.”
Lupus. A Japanese study found that drinking coffee is associated with a slight reduction in risk of bone fractures in lupus.
Multiple sclerosis. Drinking coffee has not been found to be associated with a lower risk of developing multiple sclerosis, but coffee drinkers are less likely to develop advanced disease (EDSS 6). One study, it should be noted, found that drinkers of “Turkish coffee” had a higher risk of developing the disease.
Peptic ulcers. There is some evidence that the chlorogenic acid in coffee protects against the development of peptic (stomach) ulcers. However, green coffee bean extract would be much more helpful than coffee for ulcer prevention.
Rheumatoid arthritis. Drinking coffee can actually increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis—if you happen to carry a copy of a gene called ACPA, and you drink more than 10 cups of regular coffee per day.
PCOS. One study found that drinking decaffeinated coffee for 4 weeks lowers both total and free testosterone levels in women, slightly, which would be beneficial in PCOS. Regular coffee lowers total testosterone in women, but free testosterone levels are not affected in just 4 weeks. No similar effects were noted for coffee in men.
Thyroid problems. If you drink coffee at breakfast and take your thyroid hormone replacement as a pill, then you should wait a few hours before you take your daily dose of Synthroid (levothyroxine). However, if you take Synthroid in liquid form or as a gel cap, coffee has no effect on how well your body absorbs the drug.
Is There a “Magic Ingredient” in Coffee?
The message from science seems to be “Coffee is great! Let's drink more!” but there is a problem. To get the benefits of coffee in your health, you have to drink a lot. Fortunately, the healing ingredients of coffee can be concentrated into an “extract” that can be put in a capsule, the advertisers tell us.
Naturally, I wanted to make sure this is true, so I looked into the facts. Here is what I found.
To really understand what green coffee bean extract is, let's start with a good definition of coffee. The coffee we drink begins as the bean of a bush native to Ethiopia and cultivated in relatively cool tropical climates around the world. The coffee plant blooms white flowers and produces red “cherries,” which are really more of a fruit. The flesh around the seed inside the coffee berry is edible, and delicious, but it is the bean inside that becomes the drink.
Green coffee is a “green bean,” referring to the seed inside the “cherry.” (Adding to the confusion, coffee “cherries” are sometimes referred to as coffee “berries.”) Like any other seed, the coffee “bean” can be planted, and with a lot of luck, you will actually get a coffee plant.
Coffee seeds are notoriously difficult to germinate. To get reliable results, they have to be planted whole. Germination takes about two months, and during the time a variety of chemicals are helping the embryo inside the seed break through to become a little plant.
It's those chemicals that make green coffee bean extract special. One of the chemicals the seedling uses to sprout is called an enzyme called a proteinase. You don't hear much about green coffee bean enzymes, but they're an important part of why green coffee extract works. The particular proteinase enzyme in green coffee snips protein molecules in the tough outer coating of the bean so the seedling can emerge through its protective coat (in about eight weeks).
When you drink coffee, this same proteinase, scientists discovered only in 2012, gets into your bloodstream and circulates to your brain where it breaks down some of “tangled” proteins that cause long-term problems of brain aging like Alzheimer's disease. This coffee enzyme (which partially survives roasting and brewing) is part of the reason moderate coffee intake reduces the risk of stroke, the overall risk of cancer, Alzheimer's disease, suicide and depression.
Of course, you don't have to buy our product to get these benefits. These are inherent in coffee itself. But turning green coffee into an extract makes it more applicable to weight control.
It might be helpful to explain exactly what an “extract” is. An extract is just a concentrate of the chemicals in a plant that have biological activity. Sometimes you really don't want to know what is necessary to make an extract. There are herbs that have healing chemicals that have to be extracted with toxins like methanol, hexanol, or toluene. The toxic solvent is boiled off (usually at temperatures not a whole lot higher than room temperature, and sometimes not completely), leaving the extract in a collection vat.
Green coffee extract is made without the toxic chemicals that are used in making so many other “natural” supplements. To make green coffee extract, all you need is—you guessed it—hot water. Actually, it's possible to make an even more effective green coffee extract with carbon dioxide under such high pressure that it is a liquid, rather than a solid (like dry ice) or a gas (like the CO2 in the atmosphere), but this kind of manufacturing is not necessary.
Simply “brewing” ground coffee beans to release the therapeutic compounds works just fine for the first step in making a green coffee bean extract weight loss product. To standardize the final product more precisely, manufacturers will add a small amount of ethanol (the kind of alcohol that is in wine, beer, or other alcoholic beverages) to dissolve the active ingredient called chlorogenic acid even more thoroughly. The alcohol washes away any bitter-tasting compounds in the arabica or robusta beans used to make green coffee extract, and when the water and the alcohol are both evaporated away, what is left is a kind of not-so-tasty “coffee cake” that can be put into a supplement.
Some frequently asked questions about green coffee bean extract:
Q. Why are green coffee extracts made with green coffee beans instead of roasted coffee beans?
A. Actually, roasted coffee beans would work, too. It's just easier to make the extract from beans that are still green. The coffee bean is so potent that its enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, antioxidants, and chlorogenic acid are even presented after it has been roasted. They are just easier to work with while the bean is green.
Q. Are there any dangerous chemicals that find their way into green coffee bean extract?
A. No. There isn't any alcohol left in the extract itself. It evaporates and leaves a dry powder. When manufacturers make small batches, they might run the green coffee bean liquid through a charcoal filter or through medicinal clay, but these don't appear in the final product, either.
How Does Green Coffee Bean Extract Work? Will Green Coffee Bean Extract Work for Me?
There's a lot of misinformation floating around on the topic of green coffee bean extracts and dieting. Sometimes green coffee bean extract is exactly what a dieter needs. Sometimes it's not. But it's easy to know whether it will work for you. First, an explanation of the fat-burning effects of green coffee chemicals.
The makers of green coffee bean extracts focus on just one of the hundreds of beneficial chemicals found in the green coffee bean, chlorogenic acid. This chemical is also found in roasted coffee, but only about 30% as much. What's so special about chlorogenic acid?
In a coffee bean, chlorogenic acid helps the seedling make convert simple sugars into complex carbohydrates. In the human digestive tract, chlorogenic acid slows down the process by which complex carbohydrates are converted into simple sugars.
For some dieters, that is a very important contribution to weight loss. The digestive tract breaks down carbohydrates into simple sugars. The pancreas, if you are not diabetic, starts “unzipping” long chains of stored insulin when it gets a message from the digestive tract that food is on its way downstream.
Insulin moves the sugars the digestive tract has released out of the bloodstream, but that's not all it does. Fat cells are highly responsive to insulin. When there are high amounts of insulin in the bloodstream, they activate enzymes that allow them to store excess calories as fat and that also keep them from releasing fatty acids to be burned through exercise. When there are lower amounts of insulin in the bloodstream, fat cells activate enzymes that allow them to “unzip” long chains of stored triglycerides so they can be burned off.
If you slow down the download of digested sugars into the bloodstream, you reduce the amount of insulin the pancreas has to release, and you reduce the amount of time fat cells are in storage mode while you increase the amount of time your body can go into fat burning mode. That's what the chlorogenic acid in green coffee bean extract does for you.
So, doesn't that make green coffee bean extract a magic weight loss pill? Well, not exactly. You still have to watch what you eat.
Green coffee bean extract isn't a “fat burner.” It just lets your body function longer as a fat burner. It can't overcome the effects of eating a dozen jelly donuts in a single sitting. It can help you overcome the effects of eating a slice of toast with your oatmeal or a roll with your salad. The less you eat, the more fat you will burn. Calorie restriction is still an important part of the process.
And green coffee bean extract really works best when you are losing weight by eating less, or when you are losing weight by a vegetarian or vegan or raw foods or whole foods diet, more than when you are losing weight on Atkins or South Beach. If you aren't eating any carb foods (which is not actually a good diet plan), it won't have a big effect on how your body burns fat. But your weight loss diet will probably work anyway, at least in the short term.
Weight loss, by the way, isn't the only benefit of chlorogenic acid. Various clinical and experimental studies have found that this coffee chemical:
• Reduces platelet aggregation in hyperlipidemia. Having too many triglycerides (which can be thought of as extra calories) in the bloodstream makes the blood “stickier.” The less blood cells stick together, the less likely they are to form clots, and the less likely you are to experience a heart attack or stroke—especially right after a high-calorie fatty meal.
• Slows down the processes that cause ulcers in the stomach and duodenum, at least in experimental studies with lab animals. Unlike taking the “purple pill” or antacids, chlorogenic acid reduces acid injury to the lining of the digestive tract without interfering with the action of digestive juices to release amino acids and calcium from food.
• Reduces the severity of allergic reactions leading to asthmatic attacks.
• Seems to produce against colon cancer.
• Protects against fatty liver in high-fat diets (again, at least in experimental studies with animals). A combination of lots of fat and lots of carbohydrate, especially from eating snack foods, or lots of desserts, forces the liver to work overtime to store excess calories. It can become filled with fatty streaks that interfere with normal circulation. Chlorogenic acid stops this process.
But couldn't you get all the benefits of chlorogenic acid just by drinking coffee? It turns out, actually not.
There is chlorogenic acid in all kinds of coffee. There's a lot more in green, unroasted coffee beans. They contain about 10% chlorogenic acid, easily absorbed by the digestive tract. Roasted coffee beans might contain as little as 2% chlorogenic acid. Both arabica and robusta beans contain the weight loss compound.
The kind of drinkable coffee that has the greatest effect on weight loss, oddly enough, is dark roast (very un-green beans) rather than light roast. And its more modest weight loss effects occur because it concentrates some other enzymes rather than because of chlorogenic acid, the weight loss benefits of drinking coffee less than taking the green coffee extract. It doesn't hurt to do both, however.
Image credit: Nevit Dilman