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Is Decaffeinated Coffee Bad for You?

Is Decaffeinated Coffee Bad for You?
Caffeine is considered to be a psychoactive drug, and like other members of this family, it can also cause addiction. In this article, we will understand the safety levels of decaffeinated coffee, and also the effects and benefits of its consumption in excess.
Chandramita Bora
Last Updated: Feb 3, 2018
What's Your Resolution?
Resolutions have the liberty to be random. One such resolution is centripetal to consuming coffee, especially when the decaf version is on a roll! Retail espresso vendors have chalked a pattern, where the demand for decaffeinated coffee climbs the ladder, particularly in the month of January. Why? It's a resolution on New Year's Eve (We don't know if it ends there!).
Caffeine, the main active ingredient in beverages like coffee and tea, is often blamed for several health problems. It is also considered to be the most widely consumed drug, which acts on the central nervous system to increase mental alertness, and combat fatigue and sleepiness. Being a psychoactive drug, the adverse effects of caffeine is raising many concerns, and day by day, more people are switching over to decaffeinated (decaf) coffee, which is the caffeine-free version of their popular beverage. Decaf coffee is derived by processing coffee beans. When coffee is decaffeinated, a significant portion of its caffeine content is removed, but the substances that impart flavor to coffee are retained. However, recent studies and researches have pointed out that decaffeinated coffee may not be healthier than regular coffee, as assumed by many.
Adverse Effects of Decaf Coffee
Increases Acidity
Coffee being extremely acidic, can stimulate excessive secretion of gastric acid. It has been observed that coffee is more acidic than caffeine alone added to water. This can be considered as an indicator, that in addition to caffeine, there are some other compounds in it that can be responsible for increasing acidity. Decaffeinated coffee has been found to be more harmful in conditions like acid reflux, gastric ulcers, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), heartburn, etc.
Risk of Cholesterol Increase and Heart Attack
Decaf coffee is usually made from Robusta beans, which are known to contain diterpenes that can stimulate the production of fatty acids in the body. This in turn, is said to increase the production of LDL cholesterol and an 8% rise in apolipoprotein B, a.k.a. ApoB (a cholesterol-related protein associated to cardiovascular diseases). Besides this, both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee contain chlorogenic acid, high levels of which can raise the level of homocysteine, which in turn can increase the risk of heart diseases.
May Lead to Osteoporosis or Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Studies suggest that every 6 ounces of regular coffee contributes to 5 milligrams of calcium loss; therefore, 300 to 400 mg of coffee per day doubles the danger of hip fractures. Excessive intake of decaffeinated as well as caffeinated coffee is supposed to have an association with the demineralization of the bones, which can eventually result in osteoporosis or RA. It meliorates the bone cell function, which elevates osteoclastic bone resorption and diminishes osteoblastic bone formation. The risk of this condition can be more with decaf coffee, as high metabolic acidity has been found to contribute to abnormal loss of bones.
Link to Organ Damage and Cancer
The decaffeination procedure involves the use of either methylene chloride (CH2Cl2) or ethyl acetate (C4H8O2), and this process ends up leaving behind some of this compound on the coffee beans. This organic compound is known to be carcinogenic, which is toxic to the central nervous system (CNS), lungs, liver, and mucous membrane. Excess and prolonged use of these compounds may result in organ damage. However, the amount of methylene chloride in the beans is reduced to residual level, which can be considered safe according to the maximum allowable limit set by the FDA, i.e., 10 ppm (parts per million).
Benefits of Decaf Coffee
Lowers the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
When an individual suffers from type 2 diabetes, his or her brain does not optimally utilize glucose, which can lead to neurocognitive problems. Giulio Maria Pasinetti, MD, PhD, Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, headed a research on the connection between decaf coffee preparations and type 2 diabetes. Mice with type 2 diabetes that were induced by diet were administered a supplement with a standardized decaffeinated coffee preparation for five months. The finding was that the brain metabolized glucose more effectively for the purpose of cellular energy as a result of the administration of this supplement. Quoting Dr. Pasinetti, "Impaired energy metabolism in the brain is known to be tightly correlated with cognitive decline during aging and in subjects at high risk for developing neurodegenerative disorders. This is the first evidence showing the potential benefits of decaffeinated coffee preparations for both preventing and treating cognitive decline caused by type 2 diabetes, aging, and/or neurodegenerative disorders."
Fights Gout
Gout is a painful inflammatory condition which has its origin in arthritis, and is caused due to the accumulation of uric acid in the joints. It is predominant in men as compared to women. The effect of caffeinated and decaf coffee on gout has been analyzed by scientists at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Medical School. The report that they submitted in May 2007 said that, men who consumed four or more cups of decaf coffee per day, have lower risk of developing gout, as compared to those who did not. Caffeinated coffee has also been found to reduce the risk of developing gout.
Reduced Cases of Prostate Cancer
A new study led by the researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) suggested that men who consumed more than six cups of coffee or decaf coffee in a day, were at a lower risk (20%) of any form of prostate cancer, and at a considerably smaller risk of lethal prostate cancer, as compared to those who did not drink coffee. This reduction in the risk was observed for both, caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee drinkers.
Coffee Decaffeination Process
The process of removing caffeine from coffee beans is known as decaffeination, which can be direct or indirect. There are basically three methods for eliminating caffeine from coffee beans. These methods basically involve soaking the coffee beans in water, in order to dissolve the caffeine. A solvent or activated carbon is then used to extract the caffeine, after which the coffee beans are again soaked in the decaffeinated water, so that they can reabsorb the compounds that impart flavor to the coffee. In indirect decaffeination, the coffee beans do not come in contact with the solvent directly. The solvents that are usually employed in this process are methylene chloride and ethyl acetate. Nowadays, ethyl acetate is more commonly used for this purpose, as it is a naturally occurring compound found in many fruits. Coffee, which is decaffeinated with the help of ethyl acetate, is therefore known as 'naturally decaffeinated' coffee.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.
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