"Moderate coffee is not considered a health concern": Prof Jaakko Tuomilehto

21 March 2014 | Interviews | By Narayan Kulkarni

Prof Jaakko Tuomilehto is a Professor of Public Health at the University of Helsinki, Finland. He is also affiliated with the Diabetes and Genetic Epidemiology Unit of the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki, Finland, and holds positions as Professor at the Danube-University Krems, Austria. His research interests include the epidemiology and prevention of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, cancer and dementia.

He has contributed to many landmark studies, including the North Karelia Project in Finland, the first community-based prevention programme for cardiovascular disease and the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study (DPS) that demonstrated a remarkable 58% reduction in the incidence of diabetes with lifestyle intervention. He established large international collaborative studies of diabetes and cardiovascular epidemiology worldwide. His studies on effects of lifestyle on health include research related to health effects of coffee. He has been invited to be a member of several international World Health Organization (WHO) committees.

Prof Tuomilehto has played an active role within the European Society of Cardiology and is actively involved in several other committees, scientific organisations and advisory boards nationally and internationally. Currently he serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Primary Care Diabetes. He has received many prestigious scientific awards. He has contributed to over 1,300 scientific peer-reviewed publications and is one of the most cited authors in the field of clinical medicine in the world. Prof Tuomilehto made presentation on “Health in a cup of coffee: the scientific evidence” at India International Coffee Festival 2014 held in Bangalore on January 24. On the sidelines of the festival, NuFFooDS Spectrum spoke to him about coffee and health. Excerpts:


What are the health concerns related to coffee drinking?

Initially people thought coffee drinking as a risk factor for wide range of diseases such as birth defects, cancer, heart disease, acidity, stomach irritation, sleeping problem and osteoporosis. In Europe, some religious outfits have been asking people to avoid coffee, as caffeine in coffee has negative effects on body like nervousness, anxiety, aggressiveness, insomnia, trembling and tachycardia.


What do you say about coffee drinking?

Globally millions of people consume coffee. Caffeine, most often in coffee, consumed daily by these people with some of them unable to stay away or stop drinking coffee. Moderate consumption of coffee (up to 250 mg in one sitting) and caffeine is not considered to be a health concern. One will feel relaxed, gets higher capacity of concentration, increased alertness and gets positive energy and mood by having one to two large cups of coffee.


How about drinking coffee the Indian way (milk+filter coffee+sugar)?

I really don’t know how milky Indian coffee will metabolise in the body and its impact. However, those who have been drinking coffee with cream and skimmed milk in Europe in moderation have any side effects. One has to take up studies in India with funding from Coffee Board on drinking milky coffee to understand its impact on the body.


How many research papers have been published so far on coffee and health benefits world over?

I feel there are over 20,000 research papers published since 1974 on coffee and healthcare.


How many scientists have been working on research associated with coffee in the world?

I don’t see any dedicated scientist working on health associated to coffee drinking in the world. However, Finland, with the highest coffee consumption rate in the world (11.3 kg/year per capita) has some 10-15 scientists working on research related to coffee drinking on part time basis.


How much money has been spent on coffee research related to healthcare?

Not much has been spent on coffee research. In Europe, so far few millions of euros have been invested, mainly from private sectors. Some of the leading coffee manufacturers have formed Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC), a non-profit organisation to study health benefits of coffee in 1990. Besides, government of Finland has supported coffee and healthcare projects. However, substantial amount needs to be spent from public funding on coffee research. Otherwise, public will conclude that with private funding corporate will have favourable research findings to push their innovative coffee beverages and products into the market.


Narayan Kulkarni

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