Coffee is not the miracle drug it's often made out to be

LAST week scientists from the University of Florida released a study claiming that coffee can prevent the development of dementia, and even reverse it. When they gave caffeine to mice that had been bred to have the rodent version of Alzheimer&rsquo;s, they found that the animals&rsquo; ability to perform memory tests increased and was soon comparable to healthy mice.<br /><br />Caffeine appears to hamper the production of the sticky, abnormal protein plaques that form in the brain and destroy nerve cells, leading to the degeneration and memory loss associated with Alzheimer&rsquo;s, said the boffins.<br /><br />This isn&rsquo;t the first time coffee has been lauded as a healthy brew &ndash; its quantities of antioxidants have led to it being suggested as an alternative to fruits and vegetables. A study produced by Scranton University in Pennsylvania a couple of years back suggested that coffee contains enough free radical-busting agents to help reduce liver and colon cancer, Type 2 diabetes and Parkinson&rsquo;s disease.<br /><br />This is good news for the likes of me. Like millions of other desk-workers, I&rsquo;m not quite sure how I&rsquo;d get through the morning without my caffeine fix. My day starts with a venti Americano from Starbucks, which contains four shots of espresso, and enough to keep me buzzing till lunch.<br /><br /><strong>WONDER DRUG OR DEVIL&rsquo;S BREW</strong><br />So should we be knocking back the double espressos with gay abandon? How about the cans of Coke? After all, the five cups (or two strong coffee-house cups) the Alzheimer&rsquo;s team recommend, are the equivalent of 14 cups of tea or 20 cola drinks. Barely a month goes by without another study about coffee, one minute saying that it is a wonder drug, the next that it is the devil&rsquo;s brew. So is it really good for you?.<br /><br />The answer is that you should be wary, especially if you are a stressed City worker. In moderation, coffee is fine, particularly bearing in mind its possible healing powers. But it can cause longer-term health problems. Sanna Anderson, a City-based nutritionist, says: &ldquo;If you go beyond your couple of cups a day you&rsquo;re causing problems such as dehydration and adrenal fatigue.&rdquo;<br /><br /><strong>WORSE FOR WEAR</strong><br />Caffeine artificially stimulates your adrenal glands, which produce adrenaline. When you&rsquo;re stressed they work hard enough as it is &ndash; the extra caffeine is a severe burden. The glands in turn stimulate the production of cortisol, the stress hormone.<br /><br />Cortisol in the right amount regulates energy levels and modifies and regulates your immune system response &ndash; with too much coursing around your body, these functions can be severely disrupted, leaving you the worse for wear.<br /><br />&ldquo;Caffeine can put you on an energy rollercoaster,&rdquo; says Anderson. &ldquo;Your stress hormones will be activated in bursts, causing cycles of high and low energy. Real food gives you real energy. With coffee, when you&rsquo;re stressed, its like throwing petrol at a dwindling fire &ndash; you&rsquo;ve got nothing to go on.&rdquo;<br /><br />Anderson says she often sees stressed City workers whose adrenals are pumping away, struggling to produce enough adrenaline as it is, and coffee only intensifies their strain. &ldquo;Adrenals were never designed for constant use,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;When we were jungle women and men, we had the occasional jag of stress when threatened by an animal or something. Now, threatened with deadlines and targets constantly, it&rsquo;s quite possible to feel stressed all the time.&rdquo;<br /><br />Anderson says that if you need coffee to keep you going, it&rsquo;s probably not doing you any good. &ldquo;If you&rsquo;re dependent on it, you need to look at the bigger picture &ndash; sleep, your mental state, your diet. Of course, if you don&rsquo;t have any major stresses with your job or relationships, a few extra cups of coffee a day aren&rsquo;t going to rock the boat. If you&rsquo;re stressed out constantly and work in an office, there could be serious long-term effects.&rdquo; These include a weakened immune system, mismanaged, irregular bouts of energy and difficulty with losing weight.<br /><br />So, while a couple of cups a day may be beneficial, remember the toll that caffeine can take on your body. &ldquo;I always tell people to have a little of what they want, and with something like coffee, moderation is all-important,&rdquo; says Anderson.<br /><br /><strong>COFFEE </strong>THE FACTS<br />&bull; Seven million tons of coffee beans are harvested each year worldwide. <br />&bull; Coffee is the world&rsquo;s seventh-largest legal agricultural export by value. <br />&bull; Brazil is the world leader in production of green coffee, followed by Vietnam and Colombia.<br />&bull; In North America and Europe, coffee consumption is about a third of that of tap water. <br />&bull; Germany is the world&rsquo;s second largest consumer of coffee, after the US, with each person averaging 16 pounds of beans a year. <br />&bull; An average filter coffee contains 115-175 mg of caffeine; a shot of espresso has 60mg.