article

10.28.11

Can Coffee Save Your Life?

Scientists say a cup of joe can help ward off cancer, diabetes, depression, and more. Anneli Rufus on a dozen of coffee's miraculous benefits—and a few of its scary side effects.

A new study suggests that drinking coffee significantly reduces our skin-cancer risk. There’s a raft of other research that’s piling up evidence that regular cups of joe—six-ounce servings packed with antioxidants, polyphenols, and other health-boosting chemicals—can prevent everything from diabetes to depression to cirrhosis of the liver to stroke. (Intracranial aneurysms, not so much.) Scared of superbugs? Pour yourself another cup.

1. Drinking more than three cups of coffee a day reduces the risk of basal-cell carcinoma by 20 percent in women and 9 percent in men.

Drinking even more coffee even further reduces our risk of getting this common form of skin cancer, according to a report presented last week at an American Association for Cancer Research prevention conference. “The antioxidants in coffee have been shown to reduce inflammation and inhibit cellular tumor growth,” says dietician and nutrition therapist Karen Scheuner. “Foods high in antioxidants help protect the cells against oxidative damage caused by free radicals that can elicit cells to grow in a way that promotes cancer.”

Coffee Consumption Associated with Decreased Risk for Basal-Cell Carcinoma.” Study discussed at the AARC International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, Oct. 22-25, 2011.

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2. Drinking one to five cups of coffee per day reduces your risk of having a stroke by as much as 25 percent.

A 10-year study conducted on 34,670 participants linked coffee consumption with “a statistically significant lower risk of total stroke, cerebral infarction, and subarachnoid hemorrhage,” its authors write, “but not intracerebral hemorrhage.” Well, that’s three out of four.

Susanna C. Larsson, et al. “Coffee Consumption and Risk of Stroke in Women.” Stroke: American Heart Association Journals, 119, 1116-1123.

3. Women who drink four cups of coffee per day are 20 percent less likely to be clinically depressed than women who drink only one cup of coffee per week.

Depression risk decreases with increasing caffeinated coffee consumption, according to the scholars whose study conducted on 50,739 women yielded this stat. Caffeine is the world’s most widely used central-nervous-system stimulant, with 80 percent of it being consumed via coffee. Scheuner points out that, under the influence of caffeine, “most people report feeling increased alertness, increased energy, and generally being in good moods. It’s difficult to say what else coffee drinkers do in their lives to keep serotonin and other neurotransmitters involved in regulating moods at normal levels.”

Michael Lucas, et al. “Coffee, Caffeine, and Risk of Depression Among Women.”  Archives of Internal Medicine, 171 (17), 1571-1578.

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4. People who drink more than six cups of coffee per day are 35 percent less likely to have type 2 diabetes than people who drink fewer than two cups of coffee per day.

“I remain a bit cautious about drinking six or more cups of coffee to prevent diabetes,” says Mark Pendergrast, the author of Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. “An association does not necessarily translate to a cause or cure, and I would be vibrating if I drank that much coffee, unless I built up a tolerance, in which case I would be a real addict.” The study that yielded this stat also found an impressive 28 percent lower diabetes risk in people who drink four cups of coffee per day.

Rob van Dam and Hu, Frank. “Coffee Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes.”  Journal of the American Medical Association, 294 (1), 97-104.

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5. Coffee drinkers are about twice as likely as non-coffee drinkers not to develop the potentially deadly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection in their nostrils.

The recent study that yielded this stat found that drinking hot coffee or hot tea (but not cold versions of either) increases resistance to MRSA, a scary superbug that runs rampant in hospitals and kills about 11,000 people in the U.S. per year. “Our findings raise the possibility of a promising new method to decrease MRSA nasal carriage that is safe, inexpensive, and easily accessible,” write the study’s authors. MRSA starts with skin boils, then spreads to infect organs and bones.

Eric Matheson, et al. “Tea and Coffee Consumption and MRSA Nasal Carriage.”  Annals of Family Medicine, 9 (4), 299-304.

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6. People who drink four or more cups of coffee per day are 80 percent less likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver than are people who drink no coffee.

“There is an ingredient in coffee that protects against cirrhosis, especially alcoholic cirrhosis,” write the authors of the seven-year study that yielded this stat. Previously, the medical community had known little about how to prevent or modulate this devastating liver disease. Sorry, tannin fans: “In contrast to results for coffee, no effect was observed for drinking tea,” the authors avow.

Neal Freedman, et al. “Coffee Consumption Is Associated With Response to Peginterferon and Ribavirin Therapy in Patients With Chronic Hepatitis C.”  Gastroenterology, 140 (7), 1961-1969.

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7. Women who drink one to five cups of coffee a day—including decaf—reduce their risk of death from all causes by 15 to 19 percent compared to women who drink no coffee at all.

While most coffee-related health benefits derive only from the caffeinated kind, this study found that decaf helps, too. The researchers who examined the relationships between women’s coffee consumption and mortality rates from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other causes theorize that antioxidants are the magic bullet.

Lene Andersen, et al. “Consumption of Coffee Is Associated with Reduced Risk of Death Attributed to Inflammatory and Cardiovascular Diseases in the Iowa Women’s Health Study.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83 (5), 1039-1046.

While most coffee-related health benefits derive only from the caffeinated kind, one study found that decaf helps, too.

8. Men who drink at least six cups of coffee per day are 60 percent less likely to develop lethal prostate cancer than men who drink no coffee.

And men who drink at least six cups of coffee per day have nearly a 20 percent lower risk of developing any kind of prostate cancer, according to the study that yielded this stat. Even drinking one to three cups of coffee per day reduces the lethal-prostate-cancer risk by a whopping 30 percent. According to the study, decaf drinkers experience the same benefits. “I am somewhat skeptical about these findings,” Pendergrast warns. “All too often, we hear that what caused cancer 10 years ago is now supposed to cure it, or vice versa. Yet many of the recent coffee studies are epidemiologically sound, following huge numbers of people for many years and carefully weeding out possible confounding factors.”

Kathryn Wilson, et al. “Coffee Consumption and Prostate Cancer Risk and Progression in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.”  Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 103 (11), 876-884.

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9. Coffee-drinking increases the risk of intracranial aneurysm by 10.6 percent.

OK, so this is bad news for aficionados of the bean. But it’s bad news for pretty much everyone, because the same study that yielded this figure also found that vigorous exercise increases the intracranial-aneurysm risk by 8 percent, nose-blowing increases it by 5 percent, and sexual intercourse increases it by 4 percent. How badly do you really want to avoid a brain-bleed?

M.H.M. Vlak, et al. “Trigger Factors and Their Attributable Risk for Rupture of Intracranial Aneurysms.  Coffee & Health, May 2011.

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10. Men who drink two to three cups of coffee per day are 60 percent less likely to develop gallstones than are men who drink no coffee.

For those who drink four or more cups of coffee per day, the risk-reduction factor is 55 percent. According to the scientists whose research revealed these figures, “Caffeine inhibits biliary cholesterol crystallization, decreases gall-bladder fluid absorption, and increases hepatic bile flow. Cafestol, a lipid component contained in coffee beans, may affect bile cholesterol concentration.” Also, “filtered coffee contains cafestol and kahweol, which raise serum cholesterol levels, possibly by decreasing hepatic low-density lipoprotein receptor activity.” Well, that explains everything.

Michael Leitzmann, et al. “A Prospective Study of Coffee Consumption and the Risk of Symptomatic Gallstone Disease in Men.” (PDFJournal of the American Medical Association, 281 (22), 2106-2112

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11. Men who drink at least six cups of coffee per day are 63 percent less likely to have Parkinson’s disease than are men who drink no coffee.

While that’s great news for your average joe-quaffing Joe, the study that yielded this stat found mixed results for females. Coffee-drinking significantly reduces the Parkinson’s risk only among women who don’t use postmenopausal hormone-replacement therapy. Women on HRT get no such benefits.

Alberto Ascherio, et al. “Coffee Consumption, Gender, and Parkinson’s Disease Mortality in the Cancer Prevention Study II Cohort: The Modifying Effects of Estrogen.”  American Journal of Epidemiology, 160 (10), 977-984.

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12. People who drink at least three cups of coffee per day while undergoing standard treatment for hepatitis C are nearly twice as likely to respond positively to this treatment as are non-coffee drinkers.

In the study of nearly 1,000 hep C patients that yielded these results, only 46 percent of the non-coffee drinkers demonstrated an early virological response to peginterferon and ribavirin, compared to 73 percent of participants who drank at least three cups of coffee per day.

N.D. Freedman, et al. “Coffee consumption is associated with response to peginterferon and ribavirin therapy in patients with chronic hepatitis C.”  Gastroenterology, 140 (7), 1961-9.

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13. The amount of caffeine contained in two cups of coffee can reduce postworkout muscle pain by nearly 50 percent.

A study published in The Journal of Pain set out to test “the plausibility of caffeine to attenuate pain resulting from intense damaging exercise” by giving one group of participants a moderate dose of caffeine one hour before they underwent an intense workout, and giving another otherwise similar group of participants no caffeine before they underwent an identical workout. The muscle pain experienced by both groups one and two days after the workout was then compared.

Victor Maridakis, et al. “Caffeine attenuates delayed-onset muscle pain and force loss following eccentric exercise.”  The Journal of Pain, 8 (3), 237-43.

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14. Women who drink at least one 12-ounce cup of coffee per day while pregnant are potentially twice as likely to miscarry as are women who drink no coffee while pregnant.

A bit more bad news, thanks to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that tracked 1,603 women in the first trimester of pregnancy. Among those who consumed at least 200 milligrams of caffeine per day—the equivalent of one 12-ounce cup—25.5 miscarried, compared to only 12.5 percent of the otherwise similar women who consumed no caffeine. Coconut water, anyone?

Xiaoping Weng, et al. “Maternal caffeine consumption during pregnancy and the risk of miscarriage: a prospective cohort study.”  American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 198 (3), 298e 1-8.