For the past several years, the news has been filled with reports about the health benefits of coffee. Personally, we are elated that we are selling a healthy drink However, we wonder how many of these claims are really “snake oil.”
The latest coffee health announcement comes from Canadian researchers who state that instant dark roast coffee tends to keep amyloid-beta and tau or ?-synuclein from coagulating. Front. Neurosci., 12 October 2018 https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00735 When these proteins coagulate in the brain it is a major indication of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
The press has picked up their research and announced that drinking dark roast coffee prevents Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, which is not what the Canadian researchers said.
So not only do we wonder about the researchers, we also wonder about the news editors who make such statements. Our test for fake coffee research news is to read the conclusions at the end of the original research paper.
We have also developed our own personal test to try to separate coffee fact from fake research:
- Who paid for it
- Complete methodology
- Peer reviewed
- Research independently replicated
- Data publicly available
- Common sense.
Unfortunately, academic research is a big business and in any business there are people who cut corners and/or cheat. Academicians are evaluated on their contribution to the institution in terms of money and prestige. In most cases, that means publish or perish. Publishing requires research, research requires grants, grants require funders, funders have agendas (good and bad), and future funding requires meeting the funder’s goals. An academic researcher desperate for research may take a project from a major coffee company knowing that future funding from the company will depend on his finding a positive correlation between their coffee and health. If the coffee industry funded the study we think it is an indicator of questionable research.
Good researchers explain their methodology in detail. This allows other researchers to check their procedures for validity. Fake researchers often provide little or no methodology information.
Peer review is one method of validating research. Reputable scientific journals use a blind peer review process to insure credibility. However, recent investigations indicate that some peer reviews are about as valid as the quotes from other authors on the flyleaf of books. “You say you like my research and I will say I like yours.”
The best validation is other researchers reviewing publicly available data and then replicating the research. However, that takes time and money, both of which are often unavailable.
The last resort is common sense. Old magazines are filled with advertisements for cigarettes with medical claims about their safety. Only an addict (or a researcher needing a grant) could say that inhaling smoke into your lungs was a healthy activity. Common sense isn’t infallible but it is helpful.
The Canadian researchers provided detailed methodology, the research was peer reviewed, the data is publicly available and the funding is a charitable foundation. The only question is from common sense. The researchers used Starbucks VIA, instant coffee. (Is Starbuck’s behind this? It doesn’t appear to be.) There is some basis to use instant coffee. The two most popular coffees in the world are both instant coffees, Nescafe and Nespresso. Neither the researchers or the news reports make any differentiation between VIA and other coffees. Does brewed coffee have the same effect as instant coffee? Does VIA have the same effect as other instant coffees? Maybe or maybe not. Common sense says that this research is only valid for dark roast VIA. Anything else is a blind supposition.