You probably don’t think of caffeinated drinks as health drinks. Most people undoubtedly use them as pick-me-ups to stay alert during the day. But research on caffeine, as well as other natural chemicals found in tea and coffee, shows that caffeinated drinks may provide substantial benefits for your muscles, brain and heart.
The caffeine in coffee and tea (as well as cola) takes credit for their abilities to boost alertness. Caffeine has also been found to slow down the type of mental decline characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.
When scientists at the University of South Florida (USF) examined adults in the early stages of memory deterioration, they found that the folks with higher levels of caffeine in their blood declined at a slower rate or did not decline at all. On the other hand, those who succumbed to Alzheimer’s at a quicker rate had less caffeine circulating in their blood.
“These intriguing results suggest that older adults with mild memory impairment who drink moderate levels of coffee — about 3 cups a day — will not convert to Alzheimer’s disease — or at least will experience a substantial delay before converting to Alzheimer’s,” says researcher Dr. Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist at USF.
Caffeinated Muscle Boost
If you want to keep your muscles in better shape as you age, coffee and tea may prove to be your beverages of choice. Researchers at Coventry University in England have discovered that caffeinated drinks can help you maintain better muscle tone as you get up in years. In turn, improved muscle tone may reduce your chances of falling and breaking bones as you make the transition into senior citizenship.
“Despite a reduced effect in the elderly [compared to younger people], caffeine may still provide performance-enhancing benefits,” observes researcher Jason Tallis. “With the importance of maintaining a physically active lifestyle to preserve health and functional capacity, the performance-enhancing benefit of caffeine could prove beneficial in the aging population.”
Research into coffee’s effects on life expectancy has shown that coffee drinkers may have longer life expectancies than abstainers. An analysis of the beverage habits of more than 400,000 members of AARP who were between the ages of 50 to 71 showed that, during a 12-year study, fewer of the regular coffee drinkers died than those whose lips never touched a coffee cup. In this research, the coffee fans also enjoyed a lower risk of several diseases.
The research, done at the National Cancer Institute, demonstrated that coffee drinkers died less often from respiratory disease, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, infections, injuries and accidents.
According to researcher Neal Freedman, coffee has so many phytochemicals (natural substances from the coffee bean) that it’s hard to pick out which ones are the most beneficial.
“It’s estimated there are 1,000 or more compounds in coffee,” he told The New York Times. “All of these could affect health in different ways. It might be due to one of the many compounds in coffee, or a number of them working together.”
Prostate Cancer Cells
Tea’s benefits also go beyond the effects of caffeine. Research into the polyphenols (natural chemicals) found in tea show that they can slow the growth of prostate cancer cells. Scientists at UCLA found that men who drink tea generally had higher levels of protective polyphenols in their blood and prostate tissue. And when the scientists measured the proliferation of prostate cancer cells, there was a significant decrease in how fast new cancer cells appeared for the men who had consumed tea.
Of course, most of us didn’t start drinking caffeinated drinks because we thought they would improve our health. We indulge to jump-start our brains in the morning and reboot our attention spans. But it’s refreshing to know that their benefits go beyond buoying our spirits.