Is trouble brewing for coffee drinkers?

My rationale for copious coffee consumption just took a big hit.

A Brigham and Women’s Hospital research team led by Jae Hee Kang, MSc, ScD, found a correlation between the heavy consumption of caffeinated coffee and an increased risk of developing exfoliation glaucoma (exfoliation syndrome), a disease that can lead to vision loss. After examining the data of 79,787 women from the Nurse’s Health Study and 41,202 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, Kang’s team found that people who drank three or more cups of coffee daily were at 66% greater risk of developing exfoliation syndrome than those who drank no coffee at all. Interestingly, the research did not find similar associations between exfoliation syndrome and other caffeinated food and beverages, such as soda, tea, or chocolate.

This news is particularly troubling for Scandinavians. If you happened to read the Swedish novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you probably noticed that its characters swig coffee freely throughout the day and night. This appears to be a fair representation of modern Swedish culture, as the Swedes and their neighbors are reported to be the world’s most prolific consumers of caffeinated coffee. Unfortunately, and perhaps not coincidentally, Scandinavian populations also have the highest frequencies of exfoliation syndrome and glaucoma.

Based on this correlation, Kang and his team set out to determine whether drinking coffee could be the culprit for heightening exfoliation syndrome risk or whether it’s attributable to something else about being Scandinavian. By drawing upon a non-Scandinavian (U.S.) population for his results, Kang has demonstrated that caffeinated coffee consumption – not geography or ethnicity – is the more likely determinant of eye health.

Kang and his colleagues, however, stress that more research should be done, particularly in other populations, to further evaluate whether coffee consumption is indeed a risk factor for developing exfoliation syndrome and glaucoma. In the meantime, it may be worthwhile to keep an eye on your coffee consumption.

- Chris P

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