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High caffeine levels may reduce type 2 diabetes risks


Coffee drinkers are going to be overjoyed since new research provides evidence that high caffeine levels may reduce type 2 diabetes and may lower body fat levels. As I am typing this article in my local Starbucks, I am fully caffeinated already.

There are a couple of caveats to this research that I’ll describe below. However, it does seem to provide strong evidence that high levels have some positive outcomes for certain people.

I have written about the health benefits of coffee before, but I have never looked at caffeine itself. As I usually do, I’ll take a look a the study and determine if it really tells us that there may be a good reason to drink lots of coffee or tea.

person holding starbucks coffee tumbler
Photo by Bruno Cervera on Pexels.com

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that increases alertness and attentional performance. Basically, caffeine acts by blocking the binding of adenosine to the adenosine A1 receptor, which enhances the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

The best-known source of caffeine is the coffee bean, the seed of the Coffea plant. However, other caffeine-containing drinks include cola, tea, and energy drinks. It is found in the seeds, fruits, nuts, or leaves of a number of plants native to Africa, East Asia, and South America — it helps to protect the plant against herbivores (because it is very bitter) and from competition from other by preventing the germination of nearby seeds.

Interestingly, it is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug. Unlike most other psychoactive substances, caffeine remains largely unregulated and legal in nearly all parts of the world. Its use is seen as socially acceptable in most cultures and even encouraged in others.

New research on caffeine

In a paper published on 31 January 2023 in BMJ Medicine, Susanna C. Larsson, Ph.D., of the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues used data from studies of mainly European populations to examine two specific genetic mutations that have been linked to a slower speed of caffeine metabolism.

Simply, the researchers examined individuals who had genetic mutations that caused them to have higher levels of caffeine since they did not metabolize it as fast as a person without these mutations. They used this as a model of long-term caffeine levels.

The researchers found the following:

  • The two gene variants resulted in “genetically predicted, lifelong, higher plasma caffeine concentrations and were associated with lower body mass index and fat mass, as well as a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.”
  • Approximately 43% of the effect of caffeine on type 2 diabetes was estimated to be caused by body mass index (BMI) reduction.
  • The researchers did not find any strong associations between genetically predicted plasma caffeine concentrations and the risk of any of the studied cardiovascular disease outcomes (ischemic heart disease, atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and stroke).

Summary

Although this article is intriguing, there is a lot more research that needs to be done before I am convinced that drinking a lot of coffee will lead to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and lower body fat levels. It is possible that the mutations that these people had also had an effect on metabolism.

That being said, this appears to be a good model for high caffeine levels, and that it appears to be correlated with health benefits that have a long-term beneficial effect, like lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.

I’m giving this a three out of five stars. I think it provides us with some good preliminary evidence, but I’d like something larger, like a huge epidemiological study.

Citations

Michael Simpson

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