COMMENTARY

No Such Thing as an Easy Fix

Allan M. Block, MD

September 27, 2022

Recently an article crossed my screen that drinking 4 cups of tea per day lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes by 17%. As these thing always seem to, it ended with a variant of "further research is needed."

Dr Allan Block

Encouraging? Sure. Definite? Nope.

That's the trouble with a lot of research papers. They have some promise, but really nothing definite. I've seen plenty of articles suggesting coffee and/or tea have health benefits, though specifically on what varies, from lifespan to lowering the risk of a chronic medical condition (in this case, type 2 diabetes).

There are always numerous variables that aren't clear. What kind of tea? Decaf or regular? Hot or iced? When you say cup, what do you mean? A lot of people, including me, probably consider anything smaller that a Starbucks grande to be for wimps.

While I can't think of any off the top of my head, there's probably a reasonable chance that, if I looked, I could find something that says coffee or tea are bad for you in some way, too.

Not that I'm planning on changing my already caffeinated drinking habits, which is probably the crux of these things for most of us. In a given day I have 1-2 cups of coffee and 3-4 bottles of diet green tea. Maybe 1-2 Diet Cokes in there some days. In winter more hot black tea. I'm probably a poster child for methylyxanthine toxicity.

I have no idea if all that coffee and tea are doing anything besides keeping me awake and alert for my patients. If they are, I certainly hope they're lowering my risk of something bad.

Articles like this always get attention, and are often picked up by the general media. People love to think something so simple as drinking more tea or coffee would make a big difference in their lives. So it gets forwarded, people never read past the first paragraph or two, and don't make it to the "further research is needed" line.

If an article ever came out refuting it, it probably wouldn't get nearly as much press (who wants to read bad news?) and would be quickly forgotten outside of medical circles.

But the reality is that people are really looking for shortcuts. Unless you live under a rock, it's pretty clear to both medical and lay people that such things as exercise and a healthy diet can help avoid multiple chronic health conditions. This doesn't mean most of us, myself included, will do such faithfully. It just takes less time and effort to drink more tea than it does to go to the gym, so we want to believe.

That's just human nature.

Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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