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Friday, 18 May, 2001, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
Coffee 'basis of new medicines'
Coffee
Coffee contains potentially beneficial compounds, say scientists
Scientists believe chemicals found in coffee could be used to manufacture new drugs for heart disease and insomnia.

They are focussing their efforts on substances called chlorogenic acids.

It is believed that these compounds offset the effect of another ingredient of coffee, caffeine.

Caffeine is a well-known stimulant that can set the heart racing, and prevent sleep.

The scientists believe that chlorogenic acids could provide the basis for conditions such as tachycardia - an abnormally fast heart rate - and angina.

They believe the compounds also have potential for treating epilepsy, hyperactivity and sleep problems.

Antioxidants

Sleep
The research could lead to new treatments for insomnia
Laboratory tests show chlorogenic acids act as antioxidants, mopping up destructive free radical molecules which contribute to heart disease.

Some also appear to influence a chemical, adenosine, that controls the rate at which nerves transmit messages.

Caffeine causes the heart to pound by blocking the action of adenosine.

A lack of adenosine is also implicated in conditions such as supraventricular tachycardia, where the heart beats at a constant rate but much too fast.

Adenosine also dilates arteries, allowing more blood to flow through.

This may help prevent heart muscle being starved of blood, the cause of painful angina and heart attacks.

US scientists have discovered that chlorogenic acid increases levels of adenosine by preventing its re-absorption by the body.

Synthesis

Professor Peter Martin, of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, USA, said: "We will be synthesising these compounds in coffee and chemically modifying them with the aim of accentuating certain actions.

"Some of these chlorogenic acids appear to counteract the action of caffeine, and may be helpful in fighting diseases which feature low adenosine.

"Add their antioxidant effect, and you can immediately see the potential."

The researchers found that roasting coffee beans raised their antioxidant content to four times the level found in tea.

Professor Martin warned that much work was needed before any treatments became widely available.

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29 Jan 01 | Health
Caffeine 'reduces productivity'
07 Jun 00 | Health
Coffee 'fights allergies'
26 Jul 00 | Health
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