Story at a glance
Caffeine is the drug of choice for anyone wanting to get out of bed in the morning without feeling like Grumpy from The Seven Dwarfs. It’s the nectar that makes our mornings worthwhile and our mid-morning slump bearable. Without coffee where would most of us be?
But hardly a day goes by without there being new research that promotes either the ills of or the benefits of drinking coffee. News reports fluctuate so widely it’s hard to know if coffee is likely to kill or cure us. One day it’s all about how bad it is for us; how it keeps us awake, makes us jittery and contributes to anxiety. Then it’s about how it increases your heart rate, causes insomnia and exacerbates bowel and stomach issues.
Just when you’re ready to throw in the towel and consider drinking green tea you hear that caffeine improves memory1 and increases the speed of how our brain process information. Then there’s the studies2 that suggest that coffee might decrease the risk of several types of cancer, mainly liver, colon, oral, pharyngeal, and oesophageal cancer… Frankly not a day goes by where we’re not given conflicting information about the role of the caffeine in our cappuccino. If you’ve got neck ache from watching the ping pong game of coffee being good or bad for you, we’re not surprised. It’s like a national sport; we are obsessed about coffee and caffeine.
But as it turns out, it’s not the caffeine in coffee that we need to be talking about. It’s Chlorogenic Acid.
Coffee, as it transpires, is a highly complex beverage with hundreds of compounds. It’s not packed full of caffeine as we’ve been led to believe.
In reality caffeine, isn’t nearly as big a part of the picture, instead it only makes up 2% of the coffee bean. Two per cent!
So what’s in the rest of coffee?
Well we’re glad you asked.
Coffee is an amazingly potent collection of biologically active compounds.
Chlorogenic acids, caffeol, polyphenols, phytoestrogens and diterpenes also make up compounds that go into your morning cup of sunshine. But it’s only recently that these elements have been researched by the scientific community. There is a body of evidence to suggest that some of these compounds have a diverse effect on human health, glucose levels and metabolism.
So let’s take a look at Cholorogenic Acid (CGA). That’ the ingredient that causes the bitter taste in your cup of coffee and for some people, reflux. CGA is a major player in the role of coffee. Technically it’s referred to as a phenolic compound.
Actually CGA is not only found in coffee but in a lot of plant compounds. It’s been touted3 as being able to reduce blood sugar levels and has similar health benefits to bioflavonoids, which are well known for their antioxidant properties. CGA may even decrease the absorption of dietary carbohydrates, which is all about insulin and blood sugar levels.
Glucose and lipid homeostasis is imperative for cells and organisms to survive. And moreover glucose and lipid disorders are closely related to diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer. There appears to be a link between CGA in relation to glucose and lipid metabolism. Its benefit is that CGA might inhibit glucose-6-phospatase, an enzyme that regulates blood sugar metabolism in the liver.
A study headed up by Shengxi Meng, from the Institute of liver Diseases at Shuguang Hospital3 reviewed the role of CGA in glucose and lipid metabolism through the digestion of coffee.
“It has been reported that coffee had the highest concentration of polyphenols among the beverages analysed,” the study assessed.
“Regular consumption of coffee has been associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus and this has been replicated across sexes, geographical locations, and obesity levels. CGA is major bioactive compound in coffee that may provide health benefits. For example, it is reported that daily consumption of 3 to 4 cups of decaffeinated coffee containing high contents of CGA significantly reduced the risk for type 2 diabetes by 30%.”
Other studies have also noted that there is an accumulation of evidence to suggest that CGA has a host of other biological properties and beneficial effects on the human body. It’s been noted to be antibacterial4 and displays antioxidant6 properties. Studies also report that CGA showed both anti-inflammatory5 and anti-carcinogenic properties.
With that sort of glowing reference, it’s the type of news that makes you push up off your chair and head to your local barista.
But what’s important to understand is that these trials are done on coffee, singular. Not coffee, milk and two tablespoons of sugar. When you add milk or sugar to your coffee load in the morning you’re altering the beneficial effects of coffee. In fact you’re lowering the absorption rate of CGA by 23%. Which means you’re not getting 100% of the benefit of the antioxidant properties or many others that CGA provides. But if black coffee isn’t quite your cup of tea, word on the street is that 23% reduction isn’t going to make that big a difference in the long run.
So go forth and enjoy that morning cup of coffee, that is, until the next research report comes out.
 Caffeine and coffee as therapeutics against Alzheimer’s disease. Arendash GW, Cao C. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20 Suppl 1:S117-26. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2010-091249. Review.PMID: 20182037
 Coffee, liver enzymes, cirrhosis and liver cancer. La Vecchia C. J Hepatol. 2005 Apr;42(4):444-6. Epub 2005 Jan 21. Review. No abstract available. PMID: 15763323
 Roles of Chlorogenic Acid on Regulating Glucose and Lipids Metabolism: A Review Shengxi Meng,1 Jianmei Cao,1,2 Qin Feng,1 Jinghua Peng,1 and Yiyang Hu1,3 Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,Volume 2013 (2013), Article ID 801457, 11 pages
 Antibacterial activity of coffee extracts and selected coffee chemical compounds against enterobacteria. Almeida AA, Farah A, Silva DAM, Nunam EA, Glória MBA. J Agric Food Chem. 2006;54:8738–43.
 Evaluation of the antiinflamatory, analgesic and antypiretic activity of the natural polyphenol chlorogenic acid. Santos MD, Almeida MC, Lopes NP, Souza GEP. Biol Pharm Bull. 2006;29:2236–40