A new study finds interesting links between specific chemicals in coffee and type 2 diabetes.
The US spends roughly $40 billion on coffee per year, and in 2012, the total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes in America was $245 billion.
Any links between these two unlikely bedfellows are likely to be chased down with vigor.
Recent research published in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Natural Products gives us a glimpse into the potential benefits of some of coffee's natural compounds in the management of type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes
Individuals with type 2 diabetes have a resistance to insulin. Insulin normally helps control the amount of glucose in the blood. If levels are high, it instructs the liver and muscles to absorb more.
Diabetes causes the body to stop reacting to insulin as it should. Insulin is released, but the liver and muscle cells no longer absorb the excess glucose. In the early phases of the disease, an increased amount of insulin is produced in an effort to convince the body to take on more glucose.
As the disease progresses, insulin-producing cells in the pancreas slowly die off through overuse.
The health implications of diabetes can be dire: damage to large blood vessels in the heart, brain and legs. Also, damage to smaller blood vessels can cause problems in the kidneys, eyes, feet and nerves.
The chemistry of coffee
All in all, there are more than 1,000 distinct chemical compounds in coffee. This impressive recipe includes quinic acid, 3,5-dicaffeoylquinic acid, acetylmethylcarbinol, dimethyl disulfide, putrescine, niacin, trigonelline, theophylline and our old friend and foe, caffeine.
Each of coffee's ingredients has the potential to affect human biology. More than likely, the majority of compounds, in the tiny amounts they are present in coffee, will not have a great effect on the body.
Having said that, there is no reason not to study each of these molecules in an effort to get to grips with the myriad of effects that coffee appears to exert on us.
Coffee and diabetes
Research into coffee and its ability to prevent or slow the onset of type 2 diabetes has garnered a fair amount of attention. A recent review of the literature concluded that habitual coffee drinking does seem to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
The next challenge is to tease apart the many components of coffee to pinpoint the active ingredients. As the bewildering list of chemicals above infers, this may be a gargantuan task.
Recent research conducted by Søren Gregersen and colleagues at the Department of Endocrinology and Internal Medicine at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark may have narrowed the search.
Gregersen and his team looked at the effect of a number of coffee's constituents on rat cells in vitro. Most of the compounds did not have significant effects, but cafestol and caffeic acid threw out some intriguing results.
Cafestol and caffeic acid
Cafestol makes up around 0.5% of the dry weight of coffee beans. It has been found to have anti-carcinogenic effects in rats and neuroprotective roles in the fruit fly model of Parkinson's disease.
Caffeic acid plays a major role in the building of lignin and is therefore found in all plants. It occurs in coffee but only in tiny amounts - around 0.03 mg per 100 g. Some studies have shown it to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects.
The present study found that cafestol and caffeic acid increased insulin production in the presence of glucose. Cafestol was also found to increase glucose uptake into muscle cells at a similar rate to current diabetes drugs.
According to Gregersen:
"This newly demonstrated dual action of cafestol suggests that cafestol may contribute to the preventive effects on type 2 diabetes in coffee drinkers."
The study will add another welcome avenue of research into potential treatments for diabetes.
However, to re-muddy the water, coffee filters eliminate most of the cafestol from the resulting cup. So, cafestol is unlikely to be the only useful additive for type 2 diabetics. The search is still very much on.
Medical News Today recently covered another study that implied that moderate coffee drinking might prevent premature death.