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Despite being a nation of tea drinkers, a large part of winter socialising for fashionable Pakistanis is “meeting up for coffee”. The good news is that while we try to keep warm and connected during winter we may also be helping our hearts and brains.

Recent studies conducted at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute and at Harvard University have found substantial reasons for us to meet up more often for coffee. The study provides evidence to suggest that coffee is actually good for cardiac and neurological health.

Antioxidants in coffee protect the body from premature ageing, cancer and heart disease. According to the study, drinking coffee – even decaffeinated – reduces the risk of strokes, especially in women. A meta-analysis published in Circulation (the American Heart Association journal) indicates coffee drinkers are less susceptible to heart failure compared to those who don’t drink coffee.

Coffee is also known to be able to keep neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s at bay. This is because caffeine stimulates the brain thereby improving mental performance and concentration while lifting the mood; in fact research suggests that drinking five or more cups of coffee a day slows down memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients.

According to a study carried out at McGill University, drinking coffee benefited Parkinson’s patients by boosting movement control and reducing muscle stiffness; however, it did not cure their drowsiness.

Regardless of the new findings, doctors are unlikely to consider coffee a standard recommendation because individuals metabolise caffeine differently and may or may not experience a variety of side effects, including headaches, insomnia, heartburn and palpitations.

Additionally, coffee’s health benefits largely depend on how it is prepared; boiled coffee and espresso are known to raise bad cholesterol, while filtered coffee reduces cholesterol-raising substances. If you are counting calories, steer clear of calorific sweet, milk-based coffee drinks.

So don’t feel guilty the next time you skip the gym for ‘coffee’ with friends; it’s a healthy pastime after all.

– Samia Babar
The writer is Director, Health Awareness Society.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on December 23, 2012.