[ExI] Dangers of coffee and black tea??

Emlyn emlynoregan at gmail.com
Tue Jun 9 02:26:58 UTC 2009

2009/6/9 BillK <pharos at gmail.com>:
> On 6/7/09, Damien Broderick wrote:
>> But I was able to give up cigarettes, alcohol, coffee and
>> almost all black tea without *dreadful* trouble (although I needed about 4
>> runs at the smokes over a decade or so--that stuff is *seriously*
>> habituating/addictive).
> I'm with you on giving up cigarettes.
> But I thought there were benefits to be gained from alcohol, coffee
> and black (or green) tea. All in moderation of course.
> Have you heard otherwise?
> Don't answer onlist if your abstinence is due to your personal problems.
> i.e. that embarrassing incident with the wallaby when you were a teenager.
> BillK

Alcohol is bad for you, I'm afraid.

Here's a transcript from the Aussie science show Catalyst, the episode
is called "Alcohol"

"Narration: Dr Tanya Chikritzhs and her colleagues have examined the
evidence on alcohol’s benefits for coronary heart disease and reckon
it’s a myth.

Dr Tanya Chikritzhs: We were suspicious that what appeared to be a
protective effect for alcohol was really due to problems in the
methods of many of these studies.

Narration: These studies showed that non drinkers had higher death
rates than moderate drinkers which gave the appearance of a benefit
from alcohol but that assumed that non drinkers were healthy people to
begin with.

Dr Chikritzhs: Well we found that the vast majority of studies
included among the groups of people that they called non-drinkers,
included people who once were drinkers. And the reason why they're
ex-drinkers is because they were probably unhealthy.

When you take out those people who have stopped drinking for health reasons,
it turns it into a linear relationship - so as alcohol consumption
increases, so does harm. Essentially removing any apparent protective
effects of alcohol."

And related:

Epistemological Indulgences
Ben Goldacre

Christmas is a time for harmless lies, the chocolatey indulgences of
the thought world. We know when to stop, because if we all acted on
our belief in Santa there would be no presents: and then Christmas
would be meaningless.

My favourite Christmas traditions are the “red wine is good for you”
and “chocolate is good for you” stories, which have become a festive
science tradition of their own. Red Heart Wine, from Sainsbury’s, with
extra antioxidants, is “a red wine that is actually good for your

Drink it down with new Choxi+, milk chocolate with “extra
antioxidants”. “Guilt free,” says the Daily Mail, it’s “the chocolate
bar that’s ‘healthier’ than 5lbs of apples”. “Too good to be true,”
says the Mirror. “Chocolate that is good for you, as well as
seductive,” says the Telegraph. The Choxi+ manufacturers recommend two
pieces of their chocolate every day. It’s almost as good as Fruitella
Plus, with added vitamins A, C, E and calcium.

These are jokes which have gone too far, fat and spotty on wishful
thinking. Antioxidants are like an endlessly repeated Christmas movie
that you’ve never quite watched from start to finish: let’s recap.

Firstly there’s the theoretical plausibility, from biochemistry
textbooks. Sainsbury’s tells this story in the style of a children’s
story. “Exposure to UV rays, pollution and smoking produce free
radicals,” they say. Oh modern woes! “Free radicals are compounds that
cause cell damage, which in the long term can damage health.” It’s a
simple tale of right and wrong. “Antioxidants help counteract the
harmful effects of free radicals.”

It’s an attractive idea. But if you’re going to pore over the
flowcharts in a biochemistry textbook, and pick molecules out at
random on the basis of their function in the body, then you can prove
anything you like. When you have a bacterial infection white cells
build a wall around invading bacteria and then use free radicals -
amongst other things - to kill them off, like tipping bleach down the
toilet. Should we be selling wine with extra free radicals, instead,
to help people fight bacterial infections, on the grounds of
theoretical plausibility?

Anyway. In the 1970s men who looked like Father Christmas made amazing
discoveries about smoking and health: buoyed with the enthusiasm of it
all, they decided that all other cancers must have lifestyle causes,
such as diet perhaps. They started looking for data, and this is what
they found: people who choose to eat antioxidant pills seem to live
longer; people who choose to eat fruit and vegetables seem to live
longer; fruits and vegetables contain lots of antioxidants.

Are antioxidants the key to that link? Possibly. But people who choose
to eat fruit and vegetables are getting a lot of good stuff into them,
and they’re also like me: they’re a bit posh, they get plenty of
exercise, they work, they have strong social supports, and more.

So trials were done, in huge numbers, giving one group extra
antioxidants, in pills, and the other group our old friend the placebo
sugar pill. Some of these trials were stopped early because the people
getting the antioxidants were dying faster. Overall, if you look at
all the results on a big spreadsheet (a technique called
meta-analysis) it seems that antioxidant supplement pills either do
nothing, or worse, kill you quicker. There might be something in the
antioxidant story, but they might be rubbish. You don’t read that
everyday in press releases on wine and chocolate.

So what does this do for our Christmas fable? Well fruit and veg are
definitely still good for you. But you like chocolate. I’m not your
mother. Eat it. Enjoy it. Believe in Santa. Chocolate is healthier
than 5lbs of apples. And in the new year you can perform a symbolic
purification ritual, involving five days of abstinence. You can dress
that up in crap science too.

The tea thing is all about anti-oxidants. They do nothing:


Even worse, they have negative effects with respect to exercise:


Coffee and health... seems dicey too:


And a fun loosely related riff:



http://emlyntech.wordpress.com - coding related
http://point7.wordpress.com - ranting
http://emlynoregan.com - main site

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