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Caffeine may offer Benefits as well as Problems to our Health


January 2014

There have been a lot of headlines recently about caffeine. Last month many of you will have read the big story carried across many major media on new discoveries showing caffeine is not only bad for you but can really shorten your life expectancy. Many of the reports were seriously scary.

The stories were mainly based on new groundbreaking research highlighting the detrimental effect caffeine had on our telomeres. Without getting too complicated, telomeres are the end parts of chromosomal DNA. They have been likened to the plastic tips of shoelaces which prevent the laces from fraying; telomeres keep chromosomes stable and prevent them from deteriorating when the cells containing them divide.

The main thrust of most of the media stories was that caffeine shortens our telomeres.  When a telomere is too short, it is associated with poor health and an increased risk of premature death.

This sounded decidedly scary. After all, for many people our age, cups of caffeine rich coffee and tea feature regularly in our lives.

To find out more about the latest news on caffeine, we tracked down Professor Martin Kupiec who led the research. Professor Kupiec is a world recognised expert in bio sciences and especially molecular microbiology and biotechnology based at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

His authoritative comment was incredibly interesting and highlighted the serious dangers of popular press trying to report in a few easily understood paragraphs details of incredibly complex medical and health research.

For a start, Professor Kupiec told Laterlife that depicting caffeine as a dangerous poison is misleading.

“Caffeine is in fact an alkaloid found in plants,” he said. “It is not actually poisonous for people and in fact there is a lot of research showing that it can be beneficial for health; particularly for issues related to heart function and cancer propensity.”

Professor Kupiec explained that the research about telomere length undertaken out by his team was carried out in yeast cells and it is too early to say anything about the effect of caffeine on human telomeres.

Some of the reports we had read suggested that even just one espresso coffee will contain enough caffeine to affect the length of the telomere.

“Not true, or at least not proven for humans,” said Professor Kupiec. “For yeast, you have to grow in an espresso cup during 300 generations to get your telomeres shortened.  It is not clear how many shots of espresso a human being has to drink to shorten his or her telomeres; that experiment has not been carried out yet.

“Moreover, despite the effect that caffeine has on telomeres, this does not say anything about life expectancy.  For example, calorie restriction, which increases life expectancy in a variety of organisms (including yeast) causes telomere shortening in yeast.

“In brief, telomere length correlates with cellular aging, but the relationship between cellular aging and the aging of organisms is still not solved - many questions remain.”

Professor Kupiec said while he was in favour of spreading news about scientific discoveries, it is a real disfavour to public health and to science when facts are extrapolated that are not properly understood and reported in a dramatic way.

The media reports should have angled their stories on the fact that Professor Kupiec and his team, in their excellent research work, can confirm that they have found compounds such as caffeine, alcohol and others that affect telomere length and that now they can start to develop ways of controlling telomere length for future therapy.

It doesn’t make such a dramatic headline as indicating caffeine is a dangerous poison, but at least it is accurate.

Hearing more fully about these latest developments, it underlines the fabulous work that is being done at the very top of various scientific and health research teams across the world.  Their knowledge, dedication and efforts in helping to find ways to make us healthier and live longer is something we should all be grateful for. 

 

Laterlife would like to thank Prof. Martin Kupiec for taking the time in explaining his research to us.

Prof. Martin Kupiec is President,Genetic Society of Israel. Pasha Gol Chairfor Applied Microbiology and Director, The Constantiner Institute for Molecular Genetics, Dept. of Molecular Microbiology & Biotechnology,Tel Aviv University.




 

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The above article is part of the features section of laterlife.com called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to laterlife.com written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

It includes both one off articles and also associated regular columns of a more specialist nature such as Healthwise, Gardener's Diary, our regular IT question and answer section called YoucandoIT and there's also 'It could be you' by Maggi Stamp laterlife's counsellor on human relationships. 

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