Greek coffee may be the key to a long healthy life

Greek scientists think that a Greek coffee is one of the reasons the residents of Ikaria live longer


By Klearchos Kapoutsis

By Klearchos Kapoutsis

From my column at Communities @ Washington Times 

WASHINGTON, DC, March 19, 2013 – The residents of Ikaria, a Greek island on the Aegean Sea, live significantly longer than most other communities.  In a study published in Vascular Medicine, researchers concluded that drinking boiled Greek coffee might contribute to the islander’s longevity and robust health.

Boiled Greek coffee, similar to Turkish coffee, is different from the coffee predominantly drunk in the U.S.  Finely ground and mixed with sugar, it is boiled in a small pot called a briki.  Served unfiltered in a small coffee cup and drank once the grounds have settled on the bottom, Greek coffee is often accompanied by a glass of cold water to cleanse the palate.

Many scientists have looked to the residents of Ikaria for clues on longevity and health.  While only 0.1% of Europeans live beyond age 90, over 1% of the residents of Ikaria live past their 90th birthday- one of the highest longevity rates in the world.  And the elderly islanders are also surprisingly healthy.

Relying on recent studies associating moderate coffee consumption and a slight risk reduction in cardiovascular disease, medical researchers focused on the coffee-drinking habits of Ikarians and how coffee may relate to their longevity.

Led by Gerasimos Siasos, MD, professor at the University of Athens Medical School, researchers randomly picked 71 women and 71 men from the 673 Ikarians over the age of 65 who lived on the island permanently.  Scientists collected information on participants’ medical health, lifestyle, and coffee-drinking habits.  They also gathered data on participants’ endothelial function.

The endothelium is a thin layer of cells that lines the inside of blood vessels, and endothelium function is associated with cardiovascular risk.  Aging and lifestyle choices like diet and smoking affect endothelial function.  Endothelial dysfunction is linked to early signs of arthrosclerosis and hypertension.

The study found that 87% of the participants drank boiled Greek coffee daily.  It also found that participants who consumed Greek coffee daily had significantly better endothelial function than those who consumed other types of coffee.  Surprisingly, the study also found that even Greek coffee drinkers who suffered from high blood pressure had improved endothelial function.

Researchers hypothesize that Greek coffee may be more beneficial than other coffee drinks because it has a moderate amount of caffeine and is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols.  They also suggest that when coffee is boiled it retains more of the healthful chemical compounds than when it is filtered or prepared by other methods.

It is important to point out that while many studies have linked coffee and caffeine in general to a series of health benefits including preventing cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s disease, reducing the risk of oral and skin cancers, and promoting weight loss, most studies – including this one- show a correlation, but not causation.  Ikarians may lead longer lives because, besides drinking Greek coffee, they engage in other healthful habits, like exercise and a healthy Mediterranean diet.

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