Could Coffee Actually Be a Health Food?

We’re all used to thinking of tea as a healthy beverage, but coffee? No, not so much. Most of us think of our morning cup of java as a necessary vice, possibly taking years off of our lives in exchange for getting us moving again in the morning. Many folks consume “decaf” in hopes that it is a healthier version of coffee.


Coffee prevents prostate cancer recurrences

A recent study published in Cancer Causes & Control found that coffee reduced the risk of prostate cancer recurrence or relapse. The study tracked a cohort of men diagnosed with prostate cancer. Men who drank at least one cup of coffee per day had a 56% reduction in the risk of cancer progression or relapse. Men who drank more cups of coffee per day had a greater reduction in risk.

The author of the study pointed out that caffeine has been shown to enhance cancer cell death and reduce the rate of cancer cell replication. Some of the many chemicals in coffee have been found to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. And even more exciting, some compounds in coffee can alter the methylation patterns of DNA, directly affecting the expression of cancer genes.

Some other studies have demonstrated that coffee consumption can reduce the risk of developing colorectal, ovarian, endometrial and brain cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research lists coffee as one of the foods that can help fight cancer.

Coffee reduces mortality

But, you say, surely coffee is bad for the heart? Doesn’t it raise blood pressure? Maybe it reduces the risk of cancer because coffee drinkers all drop dead at young ages from heart disease? Interestingly enough, coffee actually reduces all-cause mortality, particularly in women. Women who drink up to five cups of coffee per day have a lower risk of death from all causes than women who do not drink coffee. This applies to men as well, but the effect is more pronounced for women. Another study found that coffee drinking was actually protective against death from cardiovascular disease.

And breast cancer?

So far coffee sounds like something wonderful to guzzle down each morning. However, when it comes to breast cancer, the evidence is not quite as clear. Most studies find no clear link between coffee consumption and the risk of breast cancer. One study found that coffee consumption decreased the risk of breast cancer in BRCA1 mutation carriers. And one study found an association between high levels of caffeine consumption and a decreased survival from breast cancer.

This last study is very interesting. Moderate coffee/caffeine consumption was not linked to survival rates, but high levels of consumption were linked to reduced survival. Rather than blame the reduced survival on some effect of the coffee, the authors speculate that the women who were drinking a lot of coffee felt tired and were trying to boost energy with the coffee. The fatigue may have contributed to the reduced survival rates, or the fatigue and reduced survival may have both been caused by a more aggressive disease.

In conclusion, coffee (the full caffeine version) appears to be good for general health. It fights cancer, reduces the risk of death from all causes, reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and keeps us alert enough to stay awake at work after staying up too late the night before. However, this does not imply that loading coffee up with sugar, fats and artificial flavorings is healthy.

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