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Coffee Reduces Diabetes Risk

How Daily Coffee May Reduce Diabetes


Updated March 19, 2009

Coffee Cup and Coffee Beans

Coffee Cup and Coffee Beans

Photo: Dimitri Vervitsiotis / Getty Images
Wouldn't it be wonderful if drinking coffee could prevent diabetes? We could add coffee to dark chocolate and red wine on the list of foods that were once thought of as "vices" and are now "health foods." As more and more research comes out about the health benefits of coffee, it looks like coffee may be just what the doctor ordered for lowering your diabetes risk and improving your long-term health.

Coffee Reduces Diabetes Risk

When it comes to doing studies, coffee is a great thing to look at. People are so routine and predictable in the number of cups of coffee they have every day, it makes a pretty reliable survey questions. Researchers asked 126,000 people about their coffee drinking habits as part of a larger survey over the course of 18 years. What they found is fantastic: People who drink 1 to 3 cups of coffee have a decrease in their diabetes risk. But it gets better for people who drink lots of coffee (6 or more cups a day). These people had a 54% reduction in diabetes risk (for men) and a 30% reduction in diabetes risk for women. Another study showed even bettter results (though with less than 1000 people). In that study, current (or past) coffee drinkers had a 60% reduction of diabetes risk compared to people who never drank coffee.

Of course, anyone with diabetes or concerned about diabetes should also watch what they put in their coffee. 6 cups of coffee a day may help, but not if each cup is loaded with sugar and cream.

Should I Drink 6 Cups of Coffee a Day?

Not so fast. You need to make sure that your coffee consumption doesn't create a problem. While this study (and others supporting it) show that coffee can reduce diabetes risk, we also know that poor sleep habits can increase diabetes risk. There is also the possibility that people who drink lots of coffee have other behaviors that are healthy (like burning off calories from fidgeting or not drinking sugary sodas). So there might be a combination of health benefits going on, some linked to coffee and some linked to behaviors that coffee drinkers do (or don't do).

What About Decaffeinated Coffee?

Good question, looking at people who drank decaffeinated coffee can tell us whether the caffeine in coffee give it the health benefit or if other substances in coffee (like antioxidants) are doing the trick. Turns out that the answer is a resounding "Yes." People who drank only decaffeinated coffee showed about half the diabetes risk reduction as people who drank caffeinated coffee (compared to those who drank no coffee). So it seems the caffeine is part of the benefit, but something else in coffee helps too.

How Does Coffee Reduce Diabetes Risk?

As we saw above, the caffeine itself seems to have some benefit. Researchers also think that a certain type of chemical found in coffee (called quinines) may help. When lab rats (the animals, not the researchers) are given quinines, their sensitivity to insulin increases. That means it takes less insulin for the body to do its job of regulating blood sugar. In diabetes, cells become less and less sensitive to insulin (so the body needs to make more and more until the pancreas (which makes insulin) just gets worn out). Other chemicals in coffee may help too (but we just don't know yet).

Read More on Coffee and Health


Does Coffee Consumption Reduce the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Individuals With Impaired Glucose? Besa Smith, MPH, Deborah L. Wingard, PHD, Tyler C. Smith, MS, Donna Kritz-Silverstein, PHD and Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, MD. Diabetes Care 29:2395-2390, 2006.

Coffee Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: An 11-Year Prospective Study of 28 812 Postmenopausal Women. Mark A. Pereira, PhD; Emily D. Parker, MPH; Aaron R. Folsom, MD. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:1311-1316.

Coffee Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes. A Systematic Revie. Rob M. van Dam, PhD; Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD JAMA. 2005;294:97-104.

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