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February 1, 2012
Drinking Coffee Actually Alters Hormones in Women

The daily shot of java may affect more than just your energy levels. A new study of women found that drinking coffee and other caffeinated beverages can alter levels of estrogen, a regulating hormone in women.

Over 1,000 chemicals have been reported in roasted coffee, and 19 are known rodent carcinogens.

Coffee is the second most traded product in the world after petroleum. Worldwide coffee production tips the scales at about 6 million metric tonnes. The average yield from one tree is the equivalent of one roasted pound of coffee and it takes five years for a coffee tree to reach maturity. Coffee growers must thus resort to toxic methods to ensure maximum yield from their crops including the use of harmful chemicals to ensure crops are free of insects and pathogens.

The impact on the estrogen study appeared to vary by race. In white women, for example, coffee appears to lower estrogen, while in Asian women it has the reverse effect, raising levels of the hormone.

Estrogen is structurally responsible for accelerating metabolism, increasing vaginal lubrication, increasing bone formation and increasing uterine and endometrial growth. It also helps increase HDL cholesterol, decrease LDL cholesterol and balance salt and water retention.

“This is important physiologically because it helps us understand how caffeine is metabolized by different genetic groups, ” said Dr. Enrique Schisterman, an author of the study and senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health.

The study, which was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, analyzed data on more than 250 women who were examined one to three times a week over two menstrual cycles. They provided blood samples along with details about behaviors like exercise, eating and smoking. On average, they consumed about 90 milligrams of caffeine a day, equivalent to roughly one cup of coffee.

After controlling for a number of variables, like age and diet, the researchers found that among Asian women, those who had 200 milligrams or more of caffeine a day had higher estrogen levels compared to those who consumed less. A similar pattern was seen among black women, though it was not statistically significant. In white women, however, 200 milligrams or more of caffeine appeared to have a slight lowering effect on estrogen.

Nationwide, about 90 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 34 drink the caffeine equivalent of one to two cups of coffee every day.

Why caffeine would have a different impact depending on race was unclear, though Dr. Schisterman said it was likely that genetics has an influence on caffeine metabolism. But the source of caffeine also seemed to make a difference. When the researchers looked exclusively at caffeine from beverages other than coffee -- like green tea and soda -- it was linked to higher estrogen in all women, regardless of race. Various levels of antioxidants and other compounds in the drinks, as well as additives like milk and sugar, might play a role, he said.

Dr. Schisterman noted that more research was needed to see if there could be a cumulative impact over many years or decades. “We don’t know if there are long-term effects of these small shifts in hormonal levels, ” he said.

Other Health Consequences

Despite a number of studies showing the beneficial effects of coffee, there are also those that show detrimental effects on human health. Almost all publications rely on conventional sources of coffee for their studies.

Researcher Marie-Soleil Beaudoin has discovered not only that a healthy person's blood sugar levels spike after eating a high-fat meal, but that the spike doubles after having both a fatty meal and caffeinated coffee -- jumping to levels similar to those of people at risk for diabetes.

Doctors from the University of Alabama at Birmingham also revealed that women who drink decaffeinated coffee are more than twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Caffeine has recently been found to reduce muscle activity in the Fallopian tubes that carry eggs from a woman's ovaries to her womb. "Our experiments were conducted in mice, but this finding goes a long way towards explaining why drinking caffeinated drinks can reduce a woman's chance of becoming pregnant, " says Professor Sean Ward from the University of Nevada School of Medicine, Reno, USA.

The amount of caffeine in just one cup of coffee could also be enough to harden a person's arteries for several hours afterward, according to a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress here.

Another study suggested that heart attacks might be a risk for coffee drinkers with a common genetic trait that makes caffeine linger in their bodies.

A growing body of research suggests that caffeine disrupts glucose metabolism and may contribute to the development and poor control of type 2 diabetes, a major public health problem. The blood sugar fluctuations that a caffeine high produces can contribute enormously to cravings.

Coffee can cause the body to excrete calcium in urine. We don't want the body to rid itself of calcium because this can lead to osteoporosis. According to The Diet Channel, about five milligrams of calcium is lost per every six ounces of coffee consumed.

One of the Most Sprayed Crops in the World

The coffee plant is one of the most heavily sprayed crops. It's coated with chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides, nothing you'd want to be ingesting. These chemicals then leech into the ground water and make people sick in local areas where coffee is grown.

Even though many chemicals that have been found to be harmful to the environment have been banned or are strictly regulated in the U.S. or Europe, they remain legal to use in less-developed countries, including many countries that grow coffee.

For instance, workers in these countries may be less likely to be well-informed about the dangers of the chemicals, less likely to be provided with protective gear, and less informed about proper application methods (see this abstract, for example). These regions are also much higher in biodiversity and ecosystem complexity, increasing the risk to the environment.

Here are just some of the more common chemicals used on coffee farms to control major pests and pathogens:

Endosulfan (brand nameThiodan) -- used against coffee cherry borer. Does not dissolve readily (but does degrade) in water and sticks to soil particles, so may take years to completely break down. Its breakdown products are more persistent than parent compounds. It is toxic to mammals, birds, and fish. Effects the central nervous system, and in animals causes kidney, testes, and liver damage. Class II (moderately hazardous).

Colombia has considered endosulfan worse than the coffee cherry borer. In that country, more than 100 human poisonings and one death were attributed to endosulfan use in coffee during 1993; more than 100 poisonings and three deaths were reported in 1994. Here is an article on endosulfan.

Chlorpyrifos (brand name Dursban). A broad spectrum organophosphate used against coffee cherry borer and coffee leaf miner. In the U.S. , the Environmental Protection Agency banned most household uses in 2000. It is a contact poison. It has caused human deaths, and has been linked to birth defects. It is extremely toxic to birds, freshwater and marine organisms, bees, and other wildlife. It can bioaccumulate and effect bird reproduction. Class II. A recent report on exposure and risks (especially to children) of chlorpyrifos from the Organic Center is here.

Diazinon (brand name Basudin).
Used against coffee borer. Not very toxic to mammals unless inhaled, it is nonetheless highly toxic to wildlife and beneficial insects, and acutely toxic to birds. In the U.S. where it is still commonly used on turfgrass, diazinon has caused the second largest number of total known incidents of bird mortality of any pesticide. Class II. Another profile here.

A systemic organophosphate insecticide used against leaf miner. In the U.S. , restricted use due to its high toxicity to mammals by all routes of exposure. It is also highly toxic to birds and fish. Secondary exposure and poisoning occurs after birds feed on insects that have consumed residue-laden plants; these insects are impaired by the disulfoton and are easier for birds to capture, compounding the problem. High levels of toxins can be attained in this manner and has resulted in avian mortality in connection with disulfoton use. It is delivered in granular form, which poses the threat of runoff and contamination of other crops when applied on slopes, on which coffee is often grown. Degrades or is metabolized by plants into harmful compounds that are very persistent in the environment. Class 1a, extremely hazardous (highest toxicity). Another profile here.

Methyl parathion (a.k.a. ethyl parathion, parathion). Organophosphate used against leaf miner. One of the most toxic pesticides, highly restricted in U.S. Very toxic to birds when ingested or through skin exposure. Also highly toxic to animals and fish. Persistent in soil and will bioaccumulate. Areas sprayed with this chemical should not be entered for 48 hours. It is banned in Indonesia and restricted in Colombia, but Pesticide Action Network reports that there is evidence that methyl parathion is not used safely in Central America and is regularly misused in developing countries. Class 1a, extremely hazardous.

Triadimefon (brand name Bayleton). Copper-based fungicide used to against coffee rust. Only slightly toxic to birds, little is known about its effect on humans, but it is a suspected that there is potential for reproductive problems with chronic exposure. It has been found to induce hyperactivity in rats. The major concern is that long-term use of this and other copper-based fungicides is copper accumulation in soils, such as been found in coffee farms in Kenya and in Costa Rica. Copper toxicity has been found in other crops grown in these soils, and copper impacts other biochemical and biological processes in soil, and little is known about long-term effects in tropical ecosystems. The primary metabolite of triadimefon is triadimenol, which is Class III (slightly hazardous). Another profile here.

Cypermethrin. A synthetic pyrethroid used against coffee cherry borer. Generally low direct toxicity to birds, but ingestion via contaminated insects causes mortality in young birds. Extremely toxic to fish other aquatic organisms, and should not be applied any place where it may drift into water. Class II.

Decaffeinated coffee goes through additional processing where caffeine is removed with chemicals. Conventional decaffeinated coffee often has more chemicals that regular.


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