A cup 'o Joe is hot these days in more than the literal sense.
Half of Americans drink coffee every day, and in recent years coffee houses featuring exotic roasts and flavors have sprung up all over the country. While the beverage has become an essential part of contemporary life, humans have been drinking coffee for centuries. Still, little is known about coffee's chemical make-up and what its components do once inside the human body. That, however, is about to change.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center has been awarded support of $6 million over three years to create an Institute for Coffee Studies within the Vanderbilt Addiction Center. The institute will be dedicated to studying the chemical nature of coffee, with an initial research focus on how coffee affects the brain and whether coffee can be used to treat depression and to prevent relapse in patients who have successfully undergone alcoholism treatment.
"Studies of coffee and caffeine have shown that drinking three or four cups of coffee a day is not harmful in healthy people," said Dr. Peter R. Martin, professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology and director of the division of Addiction Medicine.
"Man has decided, for whatever reason, to drink coffee. It's apparently not dangerous. It must have some benefit. It behooves us to understand that benefit. This opportunity to identify the other chemicals in coffee and study their effects is extremely exciting."
The work of the Institute for Coffee Studies will be funded by the Brazilian Coffee Association and similar associations from coffee-producing countries throughout the world dedicated to developing coffee as a crop that may replace or reduce illicit drug crops.
Investigators at the Institute for Coffee Studies will systematically evaluate other agents in coffee, besides caffeine, to determine whether they have any medicinal value, beginning with a group of chemicals called chlorogenic acids, Martin said.