Legend says that coffee was discovered by a ethiopian shepard in the 9th century after his goats behaved "funny" after eating coffee beans. Nowadays, 2.25 billions of coffee cups are drunk daily becoming the second most popular drink in the world, behind tea and above beer. Around 85% of adult population drinks coffee, and that percentage is increased if taken into account people of under 50 years of age [and without counting finals week at Texas A&M :) ]. Nevertheless, not many scientific studies have been published regarding the health benefits of coffee, and how coffee may extend your life.
Coffee is full on antioxidants such as caffeine, chlorgenic acid, diterpenes, melanoidins and polyphenols. These compouns are critical for scavenging radicals that want to damage your body. Taking this into account, coffee was hypothesized to protect against DNA damage by reducing the number of spontaneous and chemicaly induced DNA breaks. In other words, individuals that consumed more coffee had a more robust chromosome integrity.
Telomeres are DNA structures at the end of the chromosomes that are one of the main components of keeping your genetic material intact from different dangers that want to destroy your DNA. Telomeres are more often compared to the aglets of a shoe lace, or the tip of the lace, as losing this component will cause the integrity of the lace to crumble. Telomere length is variable and critical for maintaining genome integrity. Short telomere length is associated with senescence and aging, as cells will “kill themselves” if the protective cap is not present to avoid jeopardizing the genetic material encoded at chromosomes. So telomere length is becoming a marker of overall well-being on an organism, with short telomere length being a hazard on life. Interestingly, individual components of coffee have shown to have positive effects on the stability of chromosome ends and telomeres.
On a study of 40 patients that had hepatitis C, 4 cups of coffee was given during 30 days to understand the effects of coffee on health. Telomere length of the individuals that had coffee during that period remained longer than those that did not have coffee or the ones that had decaf. So the more coffee you have the longer your telomeres? I do not think it is that simple unfortunately.
While it is not clear the mechanism of how coffee may enhance telomere length, one thing is certain, too much of something is never good. Lethal dose of caffeine is set to 100 cups of coffee on a day. If a further study regarding telomere length and coffee intake should be needed, certain individuals would have been a perfect match for such a study, like former US president Roosevelt, that drunk a gallon daily of coffee,or French philosopher Voltaire, that had 50 cups daily. For the moment, I shall drink coffee and enjoy its flavor and energy kick, hoping it has positive effects on my chromosome integrity, waiting for more scientific research to explain me how many cups of coffee are needed to help my telomeres avoid death.
---Borja Barbero Barcenilla
Borja Barbero Barcenilla is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biochemistry