Drinking coffee postpartum can keep gestational diabetes from returning - study

Drinking two to five cups of either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee a day is potentially a healthier substitute in delaying the onset or preventing type-2 diabetes.

 A cup of coffee (Illustrative) (photo credit: UNSPLASH)
A cup of coffee (Illustrative)
(photo credit: UNSPLASH)

Pregnant women who had gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) can reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by drinking coffee over the long term, according to researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Coffee could be a better substitute for other less-healthful beverages in preventing or delaying the subsequent progression of the chronic disease.

In their study, the researchers followed, for over 25 years, more than 4,500 predominantly white female participants who had a history of GDM during pregnancy and examined the association of long-term coffee consumption with subsequent risk of type 2 diabetes.

They have just published their findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition under the title “Habitual coffee consumption and subsequent risk of type 2 diabetes in individuals with a history of gestational diabetes – a prospective study.”

Coffee and diabetes: How can it help formerly pregnant women?

The prevalence of type 2 diabetes is projected to continue rising, with one in three Singaporeans currently having a risk of developing diabetes in their lifetime. Several early-life cardiometabolic complications make identifying high-risk populations and application of diabetes preventive strategies paramount.

ETHIOPIA WAS the first provider and exporter of coffee beans, to Yemen.  (credit: ALEXANDR MARYNKIN/UNSPLASH)ETHIOPIA WAS the first provider and exporter of coffee beans, to Yemen. (credit: ALEXANDR MARYNKIN/UNSPLASH)

Among the high-risk groups are women who experienced diabetes during pregnancy, commonly known as gestational diabetes. Compared to the general healthy female population, these women may face a 10-fold higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Current known research has found that instead of artificially- and sugar-sweetened drinks, drinking two to five cups of either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee a day is potentially a healthier substitute in delaying the onset or preventing such diabetes.

This is likely due to the bioactive components in coffee such as polyphenols, which are naturally-occurring plant micronutrients. Bioactive components are types of chemicals found in small amounts in plants and certain foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, oils and whole grains that may promote good health.

This common and popular drink appears to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in the general population. However, whether it may also be beneficial among women who had gestational diabetes remained unknown.

To investigate this, a team led by Prof. Cuilin Zhang, director of the Global Center for Asian Women’s Health (GloW) in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the NUS School of Medicine, in collaboration with the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), examined the roles of long-term coffee consumption after the complicated pregnancy and subsequent risk of type 2 diabetes among women with a history of GDM. The team further examined coffee consumption with type 2 diabetes by replacing commonly consumed sugary drinks with coffee.

THE CONSUMPTION of caffeinated coffee among women after their pregnancies was discovered to have a linear inverse association with the risk of type 2 diabetes. Compared to those who did not drink caffeinated coffee at all, among those who drank one cup or less, two to three cups or four and more cups a day, the risk of type 2 diabetes was reduced by 10%, 17% and 53% respectively.

Interestingly, decaffeinated coffee was not associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes in their study, but this might be due to the relatively small number of women who consumed decaffeinated coffee, so the study was not able to detect a significant association.

More importantly, replacing artificially- and sugar-sweetened beverages with caffeinated coffee also reduces the risk by 10% for a cup of artificially sweetened beverage and 17% for a cup of sugar-sweetened one.

“Thus far, the overall findings suggest that caffeinated coffee, when consumed properly – two to five cups per day, without sugar and whole-fat/high-fat dairy – could be incorporated into a relatively healthy lifestyle for a certain population.”

Cuilin Zhang

“Thus far, the overall findings suggest that caffeinated coffee, when consumed properly – two to five cups per day, without sugar and whole-fat/high-fat dairy – could be incorporated into a relatively healthy lifestyle for certain population,” noted Zhang.

“The beneficial roles of coffee have been consistently suggested across diverse populations,” he wrote. “Coffee is a popular beverage choice in Singapore, but local coffee-drinking culture and behaviors may vary among individuals, such as brewing methods, drinking frequency and other condiments contained in the coffee. Thus, more studies are needed to examine the roles of coffee consumption in the local context with major health outcomes.”

Adding on to Zhang’s point, obstetrician Dr. Jiaxi Yang, the first author of the study and a postdoctoral research fellow at GloW and NUS Medicine, said that, “although coffee presents as a potentially more healthful alternative to sweetened beverages, the health benefits of coffee vary and much depends on the type and the amount of sugar and milk that you add into your coffee.”

Even with this potential benefit, there are concerns if coffee is taken in excessive amounts. It also needs to be emphasized that certain groups should be careful about drinking coffee; not much is known about the effects of coffee on pregnancies, fetuses and children, they wrote.