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The Java Jive
by Maja Tarateta
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 3.6

"a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, ahhhh..."

I've never tried to give up coffee, but I believe wholeheartedly that the endeavor would prove painful. I imagine my fiance hiding my favorite coffee mug so that I won't be tempted to fill its lovely porcelain body with the aromatic elixir. I imagine night sweats, the terrors, shakes, headaches, cravings. I imagine I'd be forced to change all my usual routes so I wouldn't have to walk by any establishment where coffee's distinctive bouquet percolated onto the street.

Oh, coffee addiction! Thy name is caffeinism!

At least, that's the clinical term.

Though researchers have (so far) identified nearly 500 chemicals swirling in our cups of joe, caffeine is the one that gets blamed for most coffee-related maladies. It regularly takes the rap for tummy upsets, irregular and speedy heartbeats, insomnia, anxiety and depression, to name but a few of the brew's better-known side effects. Trying to kick coffee? Headaches, nausea and drowsiness probably top your list of complaints. Indeed, if you've ever missed a regular fix, you can only imagine what the wagon is like. They don't call it "the wagon" for nothin'.

The ride is a bumpy one. People fall off.

The question is, "Is coffee really as bad as THEY say it is?" Depends on whom you ask.

Following Einstein's theory, for every study that "proves" that coffee causes health problems, there's equal and opposite research that says it doesn't. Some data even go so far as to suggest that coffee may be beneficial for you (similar to studies that say a glass of wine with dinner does wonders).

The two sides never seem to settle on common grounds.

For example, one study conducted in the Netherlands found that some brewing methods -- including the sinful French-press method, which I recently wrote about, and the method by which espresso is made (in other words, the non-paper-filter method) -- increased blood cholesterol. This blood-cholesterol increase, researchers say, could in turn raise the risk for heart disease. Of course some people say that coffee filters in and of themselves are bad for health, given that the paper is bleached. Then again, you have another study that found that coffee alone doesn't represent a significant risk factor for coronary heart disease.

Yet another study suggests that coffee consumption is associated with increased risk of a certain type of stroke in hypertensive older men (ages 55 to 68). The risk was more than double for men consuming three cups per day, as opposed to those who drank none. But then a different study found that drinking more coffee actually leads to a lower risk for colorectal cancer.

And so on, and so on, and...

Some of the worst things I've read about caffeine? Reportedly, eight people have actually died from injecting the stuff. It gets lumped in with various psychoactive drugs, like heroin and cocaine, along with marijuana, nicotine and alcohol, too. And some researchers believe consumption of coffee leads to cancers of various types. None of which sounds too appealing.

Some of the best things I've read about coffee? It improves endurance and memory. A recent study found that women who drink coffee may be less likely to commit suicide. Another study says that even drinking six or more cups per day -- excessive even in my book -- when done on a regular basis (we've all had those 10-cup days) may not lead to more heart attacks for women, compared to those who don't drink coffee.

There's even a third side that can't decide whether coffee is good or bad. Time magazine (July 19, 1999) reports, "Coffee turns out to be pretty harmless... yet doesn't provide any benefit either."

So, who's right?

Hard to say.

If you take time to look deeply into the java jive -- whether related to brewing method, coffee type, filters used or even "lifestyle vices" (like smoking or overeating) -- you'll find a host of conflicting data. I guess until someone reaches some definitive conclusions, its best to follow the old adage, "Everything in moderation." And as the saying continues, "Nothing in excess."

Personally, I believe much of coffee "addiction" is linked to the psychosocial implications that go along with drinking it. Like when you finish a fantastic dinner and linger with your company while talking over demitasse after demitasse of just-brewed espresso. Or when you wake up on Sunday morning and read the paper between sips from your favorite mug. It becomes a comfortable part of a routine. A habit, if you will, that can be hard to break.

Still, I must admit, even though yet another study says that heavy caffeine use during pregnancy may not translate into specific risks for the fetus, when I do decide to embark on the road to progeny, I foresee facing a few weeks of night sweats and temple tantrums. Just as I'll have to give up tuna tartare and Tekka rolls, I'll have a hard time justifying continued consumption of caffeine while pregnant. I can see it now: upon release from the hospital, I'll make my by-then husband pull over at our favorite sushi place, where I'll eat my fill of raw fish and wash it down with a good strong cup of joe. Right now, nothing sounds worse. But pondering nine months of deprivation, I can think of nothing better.

Oh, coffee addiction! Thy name is caffeinism!

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