Coffee: A Little Known Cancer Killer?
There’s been a lot of debate over the health effects of coffee, including some reports suggesting that it may be dangerous to our health. But more recently, there have been claims that it may actually have proven health benefits. Being a long-time coffee drinker, I was curious to know if there was any scientific evidence to back up these claims. I did some web surfing and found that there’s research suggesting that coffee may have health benefits—most notably in the area of fighting cancer. I’ll share what I’ve learned below, but I’d also like to share a word of warning: These studies are not conclusive and there are other factors to be considered before we can know the overall effects of coffee on our health.
Coffee and Antioxidants
When hot water runs through coffee grounds while brewing, the substances in the coffee beans mix with the water and become part of the drink. Some of these substances are well-known, including caffeine, but there are hundreds of other compounds in the mix as well—many of which have yet to be identified. Some of these compounds are antioxidants that protect our bodies from oxidation, which involves free radicals that damage molecules in the body. Believe it or not, coffee is the largest source of antioxidants in the Western diet (1, 2, 3).
Coffee and Lifespan
Research that analyzes large populations over a number of years provides the best data for assessing long-term health benefits. A groundbreaking study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012. In this study, 402,260 individuals between 50 and 71 years of age were asked about their coffee consumption. After following the study group for 12-13 years, those who drank the most coffee were much less likely to have died. (Source)
At least eleven studies conducted in southern Europe and Japan have examined the relationship between coffee drinking and the risk of primary liver cancer. One was a meta-analysis of published studies on hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) that included how much coffee patients had consumed. Researchers combined all published data to obtain an overall estimate of the association between coffee consumption and HCC. The results showed a 41 percent reduction of HCC risk among coffee drinkers compared to those who never drank coffee. (Source)
Drinking coffee may help prevent colon cancer, say German scientists, who have identified a potent antioxidant that increased protection against the disease in animal studies. Researchers have suspected for years that coffee could offer some protection against cancer thanks to its high antioxidant content, but for the first time they identified a specific anticancer compound that boosts the activity of phase II enzymes. “Until human studies are done, no one knows exactly how much coffee is needed to have a protective effect against colon cancer,” said study leader Dr Thomas Hofmann, professor and head of the Institute for Food Chemistry at the University of Muenster. “However, our studies suggest that drinking coffee may offer some protection, especially if it’s strong.” Espresso coffee contains about two to three times more of the anticancer compound than a medium roasted coffee beverage, he said. (Source)
Researchers have long considered smoking a risk factor for bladder cancer. But the results of a study published in the January 2001 issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health suggest that risk may be far higher than previously thought. The same study, however, indicates that coffee may protect against bladder cancer, especially among smokers. Analyzing data from 500 diagnosed cases of bladder cancer, as well as 1,000 control subjects, the researchers found that non-coffee drinking smokers were seven times more likely to develop the disease as non-smokers. Coffee-drinking smokers, on the other hand, were only three times more at risk. Coffee appears to somehow reduce the harmful effect of tobacco use on the bladder. (Source)
Caffeine appears to lower the risk of developing skin cancer according to two studies (1, 2) done by Rutgers University. The first study demonstrated that a combination of exercise and caffeine protect against the destructive effects of the sun’s ultraviolet-B radiation, known to induce skin cancer. In the second study, they found that topical application of caffeine directly on the skin reduced tumor growth. Both studies used mice, but similar effects may be found in humans.
For women with the BRCA1 mutation, a genetic mutation that puts them at greater risk of developing breast cancer, study results suggest that drinking caffeinated coffee offers a significant level of breast cancer prevention. In a study funded by the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance and the National Cancer Institute, researchers examined the records of 1,690 women who have the genetic mutations BRCA1 or BRCA2 and had the women answer a questionnaire about coffee consumption. Women who drank one to three cups of caffeinated coffee per day reduced their breast cancer risk by 10 percent. Women who drank four to five cups reduced their risk by 25 percent and women who drank six or more cups per day were 69 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than women who drank no coffee. (Source)
Drinking coffee, especially when it is decaffeinated, may be associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a report in the June 26 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. Previous studies in the United States and Europe have linked coffee to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. The link between coffee and diabetes risk appears to be consistent across different ages and body weights. In addition, most research has found that the more coffee an individual generally drinks, the lower his or her risk for diabetes. (Source)
These studies are good news for all of us who jump-start our day with a jolt of java.