Fresh-Brewed Coffee May Hold Hidden Health Benefit

Science: Researcher says potent antioxidants, which are believed to help prevent cancer, might be found in every pot–but only when the drink is consumed within 20 minutes of being made.

April 15, 1997| From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Research presented Monday by a UC Davis chemist suggests that chemicals in fresh-brewed coffee may form potent antioxidants, similar to vitamin C or vitamin E, which are believed to help prevent cancer.

Takayuki Shibamoto, a professor of environmental toxicology, says that, based on his preliminary study, the antioxidants in a cup of coffee might be equal to the amount found in three oranges.

“That’s not a very scientific comparison, but it makes it easier to understand,” said Shibamoto, who was in San Francisco to present his findings at the 213th national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Shibamoto said he found that the beguiling smell of freshly brewed coffee is caused by at least 300 different chemicals. Many belong to a large family of molecules called volatile heterocyclic compounds.

Individually, he said, those chemicals are not potent. But when combined, as in brewed coffee, the activity increases and is comparable to antioxidants found in many fruits and vegetables, which are believed to block undesirable effects of oxygen radicals on living tissue.

But smell alone isn’t enough. Shibamoto said that while the possibly healthy chemicals are detectable in coffee’s aroma, they escape rapidly into the air.

“You have to drink it in about 20 minutes after it is brewed,” Shibamoto said.

It also appears that the benefits, if they exist, should be the same in caffeinated and decaffeinated coffees, he said.

Shibamoto warned that the research is preliminary, restricted to test-tube analysis. Pending funding, he hopes to take a look at how animals might be affected by coffee. His work so far has been funded by the university.

Coffee’s widespread use has led to a number of recent studies. Some have examined coffee’s effect on heart disease, with varying results.

Another found that drinking more than four cups a day can promote bone thinning. Still others have found that women trying to get pregnant improve their chances by cutting back on coffee, and that women who drink coffee are less likely to commit suicide than those who do not.