I’m not worth a damn until after my second cup of coffee in the morning. Even the dogs know how useless and cranky I am; they stay away from me. When I first wake up I am grouchy and stupid. After the coffee, I am amicable and brilliant. Just ask me — right after that second cup of coffee. Don’t talk to me before then. I think it’s the caffeine which turns me into a human being. (And why is that an “e” after the “f” in caffeine instead of an “I”? Don’t coffee drinkers follow the rules?)
There is good news for us coffee drinkers at the BBC. Coffee is good for us. It may well help delay or even prevent the onset of many dementias. Mammals have a “blood-brain barrier” which protects our brains from many of the substances carried by the blood. It is a membrane between the capillaries and the brain itself. Composed of densely packed endothelial cells, the membrane prevents most substances from reaching the brain. All the body’s capillaries have this membrane but it is much more tightly packed in the head. Only substances the brain needs, like oxygen, carbon dioxide, some sugars and amino acids are allowed in. As is ethanol, which explains why booze is literally a mind altering substance. It may also explain why caffeine may not protect against alcoholic dementias even while protecting against others such as Alzheimer’s. (But red wine lowers cholesterol so my glass or two of red wine in the evening is also good for me. I love science!)
But high levels of cholesterol in the blood make the blood-brain barrier leak. Nobody knows why but cholesterol softens up the blood-brain barrier which contributes to dementia. But — bring up the trumpets — caffeine disrupts the ability of the cholesterol to attack the blood-brain barrier. Just a cup of coffee a day helps and, if one cup is good, four is better.
That’s the good news. From the New York Times comes a fly in the caffeine. Our grocery shopping, especially in the winter and spring is killing songbirds and raptors. The beautiful and justly famous Bobolink, Swainson’s Hawks, Barn Swallows and Eastern Kingbirds are a few of the victims of North Americans’ desire for fresh fruit and fresh vegetables year-round. The Latin American countries from whom we get these fruits and vegetables are spraying huge amounts of pesticides long outlawed in the U.S. on those crops and the pesticides are killing birds which migrate to those Latin American fields in the winter. The birds are being poisoned to keep us in fresh fruit. In one study half of the Bobolinks tested had, “drastically reduced levels of cholinesterase, an enzyme that affects brain and nerve cells — a sign of exposure to toxic chemicals.” Caffeine doesn’t help that.
What does this have to do with our pleasant morning ritual of coffee drinking? We need to buy organic coffee. Here is what Dr. Stutchbury suggests:
What should you put on your bird-friendly grocery list? Organic coffee, for one thing. Most mass-produced coffee is grown in open fields heavily treated with fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. In contrast, traditional small coffee farmers grow their beans under a canopy of tropical trees, which provide shade and essential nitrogen, and fertilize their soil naturally with leaf litter. Their organic, fair-trade coffee is now available in many coffee shops and supermarkets, and it is recommended by the Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center.
Done. Only organic coffee will be served in our home from this point forward. You’re welcome to stop by for some. But not until I’ve had my second cup.