April 27, 2001

Coffee institute receives Kraft gift

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Dr. Agnes Fogo, professor of Pathology, Medicine and Pediatrics, talks to prospective students Rasheeda Stephens, Fy Fy Okocha, and VMS I student Aron Rosenthal during an organ recital as part of the Second Visit Weekend. (photo by Donna Jones Bailey)

Coffee institute receives Kraft gift

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Institute for Coffee Studies has received a gift from Kraft Foods, the first independent gift given to the Institute since its inception more than two years ago.

The gift from Kraft, whose product line includes Maxwell House coffee, is an unrestricted gift and may be used in any way the Institute sees fit.

“They really like what we’re doing and want to help out,” says Dr. Peter Martin, professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology and director of the division of Addiction Medicine. “We plan to use this money to help develop our new laboratory at the Psychiatric Hospital at Vanderbilt.”

VUMC was awarded $6 million over three years to create the Institute within the Vanderbilt Addiction Center. It is the first research institute in the world established to study the possible health benefits of coffee.

Martin said that although many people have worried that drinking coffee is bad for you, the latest scientific evidence indicates that drinking coffee in moderation (2 to 4 cups per day) might in fact offer some health benefits.

“Large scale population studies over the last half-century have carefully documented the health benefits of coffee consumption,” Martin said. “In fact, recent epidemiologic studies, independently replicated, show that coffee has protective effects for suicide, liver cirrhosis, colorectal cancer, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease mortality.”

The Institute was established by funds from the Association of Coffee Producing Countries (Brazil and Colombia), a Coalition of Central American Coffee Producing Nations, the National Coffee Association of USA and the All-Japan Coffee Association.

Martin said the institute is interested in three particular areas: the potential use of coffee compounds to treat addiction; compounds in coffee that may have an anti-depressant effect; and whether there is something in coffee that produces an anti-oxidant effect.

“We are particularly interested in the effects on degenerative brain diseases and whether there are preventive effects,” Martin said. It has been observed that coffee consumption has a five-fold effect in preventing or delaying Parkinson’s Disease, but it is unclear how that works, Martin said.

“A five-fold protective effect is a big effect, but epidemiological studies are hard to interpret. So many things could be causing these changes, like differences in the environment,” he said. “Or it could be an indirect effect – a doctor telling a patient who isn’t feeling well not to drink coffee. Then, afterwards, when you look back, you realize the patients who did not drink coffee are the ones who develop Parkinson’s disease or heart disease.

“Epidemiological studies can only show associations. What we have to do at the Institute for Coffee Studies is to try to get a mechanistic understanding of these associations, to see, in fact, if they are causal, not just associations. We need to understand how the health benefits of coffee consumption could come about based on our understanding of molecular biology, cellular physiology and neuroscience.”

The coffee growers hope to use the information gleaned from scientific research to make their product more healthful, Martin said. “Coffee’s chemical components vary with how it is produced,” Martin said. “Depending on how coffee beans are roasted, the chemical effects may be changed. The idea is to make coffee as healthful as possible and reap any medicinal benefits that may be there. Along the way, we anticipate we will learn a great deal about some of the most common illnesses that affect mankind. “

Martin said the $275,000 Kraft gift is of particular historical importance since Maxwell House coffee was established in Nashville.

In 1892, the special coffee blend was developed by Joel Cheek, a partner in a wholesale grocery firm in Nashville, for the Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville.

While on a visit to The Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson in Nashville, President Theodore Roosevelt was served a cup of Maxwell House coffee and commented that it was “good to the last drop.” This became one of the most popular and often quoted advertising slogans of all time.