Storm in a coffee cup

Over the last couple of weeks Göteborgs Posten has been severely troubled by a number of recent research studies into the health effects of coffee. Is the evil bean bad news for heart patients? Or does that morning booster protect against Parkinson's disease?

Sunday’s GP enlisted the help of Dag Thelle, professor at Sahlgrenska University Hospital’s Cardiovascular Institute and experienced coffee researcher, to fight through the froth and find out once and for all whether the brown gold is good for you.

The secret lies in the 200 or so chemicals to be found in every coffee bean. Only a fraction of them are fully understood – hence the contradictory research – but they include some which increase the risk of disease, such as the cholesterol raising diterpenes, and others which reduce risk, such as the antioxidant flavonoids.

The first challenge for Professor Thelle was to sort out coffee and cancer. 400 studies on this subject since 1960 apparently boil down to the remote possibility of “a weak correlation between coffee consumption and cancer of the bladder. And a preventative effect of coffee on cancer of the colon.”

Next up, coffee and cardiovascular disease, and Professor Thelle had difficulty drawing any firm conclusions here.

“We’re a long way from getting to the bottom of this subject,” he said, but indicated that cardiovascular risk factors are affected by the brewing method. The traditional Swedish method of boiling ground coffee in a kettle is the worst at stopping the bad stuff from getting through, while the best method is to filter your coffee through paper.

According to Professor Thelle, you’ll reduce your chances of getting cancer of the colon, gall stones, cirrhosis of the liver, Parkinson’s disease and asthma if you drink 2-4 cups a day. The problem is, at the same time you’ll be more likely to get osteoporosis, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease.

The professor himself indulges, but he admitted that the picture could be muddier than a Starbucks espresso:

“Of course, there could well be unpublished studies which have arrived at completely different results.”

As the world’s second highest consumers of coffee (after Finland), Swedes may be too dependent on the stuff to care either way. But according to Expressen, 150 “laughter enthusiasts” who gathered in Stockholm’s Rålambshovspark on Sunday afternoon have found a more natural way to get their kicks.

“By laughing we feel better, both physically and psychologically. The pulse goes up and endorphins are released into the body, spreading pleasure.” said Lena Ulfsdotter Högnelid, a self-styled ‘laughter consultant’ who was leading the celebrations on World Laughter Day.

Apparently the trick is to be able to laugh without reason.

“We all go round and introduce ourselves,” Högnelid explained. “But instead of saying our names we say ‘hahahahahahah!'”

The Local’s brewing a pot of coffee if anyone’s interested.