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Coffee is in the news again!

Coffee is in the news again!  Remember when this beverage used to be considered bad for your health?  A current study is now touting it as the beverage with the highest 'antioxidants' content based on the yet-to-be-published results of a chemical analysis of its polyphenols.  From the information so far available (e.g., an American Chemical Society abstract, Associated Press, National Geographic News), it appears that polyphenols are being equated to antioxidants.  But the antioxidant strength of polyphenols (a huge class of chemicals) varies widely.  One polyphenolic compound can be 50 times stronger in antioxidant activity than another.  The study, led by Joe A. Vinson, Ph.D., a chemistry professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, apparently only analyzed the amounts of polyphenols present in coffee and other foods and drinks.  No information regarding their antioxidant activity is so far available.  Frankly, I am not surprised if coffee leads the ‘pack’ in polyphenols content because for years it has been reported to contain up to 10% chlorogenic acid, a common polyphenolic compound and antioxidant widely present in plants.  This compound is also present in artichoke and honeysuckle in substantial amounts.  However, does its presence in coffee actually mean coffee can provide you with the highest levels of antioxidants needed to combat the toxic effects of free radicals in your body?  I wish we knew.  But I am looking forward to reading Dr. Vinson’s findings when he finally publishes them, which I hope will include evidence to correlate the polyphenols contents to their antioxidant properties.

Over the past decade, I have written frequently on the irreproducibility of research results in the natural products field due to scientists’ often lack of attention paid to the test materials used in their studies.  I hope this is not such an example.

Reprinted here are two related articles published in 2000 in Leung's Chinese Herb News, Issue 25, which explain why you may not want to take the results of such research too seriously, at least until botanical reference standards such as RBRMs™ are universally used to control more precisely the identity and nature of the materials being studied.
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