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Coffee (Coffea robusta and C. arabica) is native to Ethiopia and Yemen. It was domesticated relatively late in human history, with the first definitive evidence of domestication in the 15th century CE.:3
Menace or panacea?
Prior to the era of modern medical science, it was not possible to definitively say whether coffee consumption was unhealthy, healthy, or neutral. Nonetheless, the arguments about its healthiness started early, shortly after its arrival in Mecca.:49
Attempts at banning coffee have happened several times in history: Mecca (1511 and 1526 CE), Cairo, Egypt (1539 and 1544), Italy (16th century), Constantinople, Ottoman Empire (1623), Sweden (1746), Prussia (1777), and among the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (at some point before the 18th century).:49-53 Possible ill-health from coffee drinking was considered in the first assessment of whether there should be a ban in 1511.:50 In Sweden, King Gustav III viewed coffee as a threat to public health and may have ordered the conducting of a crude prospective epidemiology study, Gustav III of Sweden's coffee experiment.
First sent amongst us this All-healing-Berry, At once to make us both Sober and Merry. Arabian Coffee, a Rich Cordial To Purse and Person Beneficial, Which of so many Vertues doth partake,…
COFFEE arrives, that Grave and wholesome Liquor, That heals the Stomack, makes the Genius quicker, Relieve, the Memory, Revives the Sad, And chears the Spirits, without making Mad; For being of a Cleansing QUALITY, By NATURE warm, Attenuating and Dry, Its constant Use the sullenest Griefs will Rout, Removes the Dropsie, gives ease to the Gout, And soon dispatcheth wheresoever it finds Scorbutick [scurvy] Humours, Hypochondriack winds, Rheums, Ptisicks, Palsies, Jaundise, Coughs, Catarrhs, And whatsoe're with Nature leavyeth Warrs; It helps Digestion, want of Appetite, And quickly sets Consumptive Bodies Right;…
The anti-caffeine crusade
One of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism, Ellen G. White (1827–1915), advised Adventists to avoid caffeine and declared that consumption of tea and coffee "is a sin, an injurious indulgence", arguing that caffeinated beverages caused "headaches, wakefulness, palpitation of the heart, indigestion, trembling, and many other evils" and wore away "life forces" and were poisonous.[note 1]
John Harvey Kellogg (1852–1943) was a Seventh-day Adventist who was a protegée of White, and also a rather quacky medical doctor. Kellogg was opposed to both tea and coffee because they contained caffeine, regarding anything with caffeine as poisonous. Kellogg also was the inventor of corn flakes breakfast cereal. This invention, and his views on caffeine were an inspiration to one of his patients, C. W. Post (1854–1914).[note 2]
Post, previously a real estate developer, was treated for a mental breakdown at Kellogg's sanitarium, and was afterward inspired to create his own food company, Postum Cereal Co. The company's first product was called Postum, which was meant to be a caffeine-free (implicit) coffee substitute. Post made an enormous fortune from the company by using massive amounts of advertising that included both vague ("There's a Reason") and plausible but unsubstantiated ("Mr. Coffee Nerves"), and wildly unsupported attacks against coffee::95
- "Lost Eyesight through Coffee Drinking" (wait, this sounds familiar...)
- "It is safe to say that one person in every three among coffee drinkers has some incipient or advanced form of disease." (as opposed to what percentage in non-drinkers?)
- Coffee contains "a poisonous drug — caffeine, which belongs in the same class of alkaloids with cocaine, morphine, nicotine, and strychnine." (Clutch those pearls!)
- "Does it reduce your work time, kill your energy, push you into the big crown of mongrels, deaden what thorough-bred blood you may have and neutralize all your efforts to make money and fame?" (Really, Post, this sounds more like booze than caffeine.)
- "Sooner or later the steady drugging will tear down the strong man or woman, and the stomach, bowels, heart, kidneys, nerves, brain or some other organ connected with the nervous system, will be attacked."
Post's attacks against coffee had a substantial negative impact on coffee sales, and led to the pursuit of decaffeinated coffee, a process for which was first patented in 1906.:209-210 Rather than ending the attacks, decaf had its own health scares based on the decaffeination solvents.:209-211
Coffee and health meet science
Scientific studies on the health effects of coffee drinking started at least as early as the 1940s. It wasn't until much later after many studies and the advent of large-scale prospective epidemiological studies that a clearer view has begun to take place.
More than 1000 chemicals have been found in coffee, and of the 30 that have been tested for carcinogenicity in rodents, 21 were carcinogenic at high doses. However, that is not the whole story: high dose studies in rodents of individual chemicals do not mean that moderate consumption of a food or beverage containing them (in small amounts) is carcinogenic to humans. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) initially evaluated coffee as being in group 2B ("possibly carcinogenic to the human urinary bladder") in 1991, a weak evaluation supported only by limited evidence. After more evidence became available, IARC reevaluated coffee as being in Group 3 ("not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans"). It is important to note that IARC only evaluates potential carcinogenicity of substances, not anti-carcinogenicity.
An umbrella study of 112 meta-analyses of observational studies looked at 59 unique health outcomes, and tried to resolve discrepancies among the studies. The study found probable evidence that coffee decreased the "risks of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, colon cancer, endometrial cancer, prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular disease mortality, Parkinson's disease, and type-2 diabetes", and that caffeine also decreased the "risks of Parkinson's disease and type-2 diabetes." There was also a probable "increased risk of pregnancy loss" from caffeine consumption, so caffeine is not recommended for pregnant women. There was also weaker evidence that coffee decreased the risk of several other diseases.
The umbrella study did not examine every possible outcomes, and there is good evidence for coffee's positive effects on other health outcomes:
- Lifespan: In a large study (reported in 2012 in the New England Journal of Medicine) of 402,260 participants, unlikely to be superseded by another coffee study anytime soon, it was found that people who drank more than 2 cups of coffee/day were 10-16% less likely to have died than nondrinkers during a 13.6 year period.
- Suicide and depression reduction
California's Proposition 65
Despite this largely positive evidence for the health benefits of coffee, dozens of coffee companies were sued regarding the carcinogenicity in animals of acrylamide in high-dose experiments under California's Proposition 65; acrylamide occurs naturally in coffee as well as other foods such as fried potatoes. The judge in the case has tentatively ruled against the coffee companies, meaning that if the ruling is finalized the coffee companies would have to post warning signs as well as possibly face fines of up to $2500 per person exposed since 2002. Proposition 65 requires that all businesses that sell products that expose customers to products that contain a chemical on a list of known carcinogens or teratogens post a warning sign on their premises to avoid a lawsuit. Most of the chemicals on the list are high-dose animal carcinogens and do not necessarily reflect actual risks to consumers. On the other hand, the ruling is likely to become final because the coffee companies "failed to satisfy their burden of proving by a preponderance of evidence that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health." Also, they would be unlikely to do so because of the evidence that there is an increased risk of pregnancy loss from caffeine consumption.
- For bottoms up approach to coffee, see the Coffee section in Colonic. Unlike coffee drinking, this is not recommended due to some serious potential side effects, and no evidence of benefit.
- Fair trade
- Hot coffee (Grand Theft Auto)
- Kopi luwak
- Purported legal highs
- The World of Caffeine by Bennett Alan Weinberg & Bonnie K. Bealer (2001) Routledge. ISBN 0415927234.
- Coffee: A Dark History by Antony Wild (2004) W. W. Norton. ISBN 0393060713.
- 5 historical attempts to ban coffee (October 2, 2012) The Week.
- "The Early History of Ethiopia's Coffee Trade and the Rise of Shawa" by Merid W. Aregay (1988) The Journal of African History 29(1):19-20. doi:10.1017/s0021853700035969. JSTOR 182236.
- Coffee – rat poison or miracle medicine? (2007) Linné on line.
- Eighteenth-Century Coffee-House Culture by Markman Ellis (2006). Routledge. ISBN 1851968296.
- A brief description of the excellent vertues of that sober and wholesome drink, called coffee, And its incomparable effects in preventing or curing most diseases incident to humane bodies London, Printed for Paul Greenwood, and are to be sold at the sign of the Coffee-Mill and Tobacco-Roll in Cloath-fair near West-Smithfield, who selleth the best Arabian Coffee-Powder and Chocolate, made in Cake or in Roll, after the Spanish Fashion, &c. 1674.
- Neueste phytochemische Entdeckungen zur Begründung einer wissenschaftlichen Phytochemie by FF Runge (1820) Berlin: G. Reimer. pp. 144–159.
- Messenger of the Lord: Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White by Herbert E. Douglass (1998). Pacific Press Publishing Association. ISBN 0816316228.
- Not-So-Perfect Cup of Coffee. News commentary: We should not forget that it's the same vindicated source of information that protected us from tobacco use that advises against caffeine. by Elizabeth Ostring (February 22, 2015) Adventist Review.
- New Dietetics: A Guide to Scientific Feeding in Health and Disease by John Harvey Kellogg (1923) The Modern Medicine Publishing Co.
- Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast (2010) Basic Books; Revised edition. ISBN 046501836X.
- Screw You, Ya Jittery Bitch Mwah! The Adventures of Mr Coffee Nerves by James Lileks (2011) Lileks.com
- Universal Naturopathic Encyclopedia, Directory and Buyers' Guide: Year Book of Drugless Therapy for 1918-19 by Benedict Lust (editor and publisher) page 25.
- Misconceptions About the Causes of Cancer by Lois Swirsky Gold et al. (2002) In: Human and Environmental Risk Assessment: Theory and Practice, edited by D. Paustenbach. John Wiley & Sons, pp. 1415-1460.
- Coffee, Tea, Mate, Methylxanthines and Methylglyoxal IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Volume 51 (1991) International Agency for Research on Cancer.
- IARC Monographs evaluate drinking coffee, maté, and very hot beverages Press release No. 244 (15 June 2016) International Agency for Research on Cancer.
- Coffee, Caffeine, and Health Outcomes: An Umbrella Review by Giuseppe Grosso et al. (2017) Annual Review of Nutrition 37:131-156.
- A large analysis shows coffee is mostly good for you, though maybe not if you're pregnant by Kendall Powell (February 4, 2018) The Washington Post.
- Coffee gives jolt to life span
- Drinking Coffee Reduces Suicide Risk By 50%: 2 To 4 Cups A Day Is Effective Antidepressant by Samantha Olson (Jul 26, 2013 01:00 PM) Medical Daily.
- Coffee, caffeine, and risk of completed suicide: results from three prospective cohorts of American adults by M. Lucas et al. (2014) World J. Biol. Psychiatry. 15(5):377-86. doi:10.3109/15622975.2013.795243.
- Starbucks, other coffee companies must have cancer warning label, California judge rules by Eli Rosenberg (March 29, 2018 at 10:25 PM) The Washington Post.
- California Coffee Shops May Be Required to Post Cancer Warnings by Chris Jennewein (March 29, 2018) Times of San Diego.
- The Proposition 65 List Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment