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Healthy properties brewing

Coffee can serve as an aromatic starter to the day or a way to stay awake through early-morning and late-night classes.

However, a slew of recent scientific studies suggest that health benefits could be stirring within that coffee pot as well.

In the past two weeks, news outlets ranging from NPR to CNN have covered recent studies, including research from USF, claiming coffee might help the human body.

Last year, a group of USF researchers at the Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center found that moderate amounts of caffeine helped reverse memory impairment in 55 mice bred with symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease.

One group of mice drank 500 milligrams – or about five 8 ounce coffee cups’ worth – of caffeine within their water every day for two months, while the other half received no caffeine.

The results showed that the caffeinated mice scored higher on water mazes and other memory tests and experienced a reduction in the beta-amyloid protein strand present in those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.

USF research professor Gary Arendash and his laboratory have followed up their research this year by conducting tests on the mice using caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee along with other caffeinated drinks – then comparing the results.

Arendash said that he believes there is a “yet-identified agent” within coffee that makes it more beneficial than caffeine-heavy beverages like soda or tea.

“There is something in coffee in addition to caffeine that actually synergizes with the caffeine – (the) bottom line is that your best source for caffeine is coffee,” Arendash said.

These study results are not the only ones to suggest that coffee might help with memory troubles. Research conducted this year by neuroscientists at the University of Lisbon also found that caffeine could help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and other types of cognitive deterioration.

“Most of the work that is done with coffee and caffeine other than our laboratory in the United States has been done in Portugal and the University of Lisbon,” Arendash said. “We know those people well, with their most recent work indicating that caffeine protects against Type 2 diabetes.”

Coffee is also most Americans’ largest daily supply of antioxidants – chemicals that help prevent cell damage and cancer risks.

According to a sample study conducted by the University of Utah, people who regularly drank four cups of coffee or more had a 39 percent lower chance of oral cavity and throat cancers than non-drinkers.

Yet this doesn’t mean it’s healthy for everyone to knock back five lattes a day.

Even though these studies show links between caffeine equivalent to four or five cups of coffee and certain cancer and disease prevention, Arendash said there is no uniform measurement for healthy coffee consumption. This is because individuals’ blood levels react to the stimulant differently.

“Also, there’s about 20 percent of us that are very sensitive to caffeine – they know who they are,” Arendash said. “You have one or two cups of coffee and you’re jittery.”

According to the Department of Health and Human Studies, pregnant women are also more susceptible to coffee’s chemical effects. It is recommended that they limit their daily caffeine intake to no more than 300 milligrams because the developing fetus cannot metabolize caffeine as quickly.

Nonetheless, Arendash said that he feels confident in his findings and hopes to test coffee’s possible use for treating Alzheimer’s disease in humans.

“Our studies show that it directly affects the disease mechanism in Alzheimer’s disease, so in my mind, there’s absolutely nothing holding us back from doing critical trials with caffeine in Alzheimer’s,” Arendash said.

Graduate student James Scholz said that he drinks two to three cups of black coffee daily, and had read about coffee’s potential health benefits in a Netherlands-based study.

“I’m a firm believer that it’s beneficial to have coffee every day,” Scholz said.

Natalie Demirdjian, a senior majoring in international business, said that she has about two cups of coffee per day, but was skeptical that drinking five cups’ worth could be healthy.

“Your system would probably be in shock from that,” she said.

However, Demirdjian said it was nice to hear that her typical drink of coffee with a little milk and sugar might have a healthy side, too.

“That’s good,” she said. “Go coffee.”