Coffee, Decaf, Espresso, Or Instant: All Brews May Lower Colon Cancer Risk
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This has certainly been a good decade for coffee lovers. Far from the guilty pleasure we once believed it, coffee has in recent years not only been exonerated, but it’s practically been heralded a health food. Studies have linked it to reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, depression, and even Parkinson’s disease and dementia. But there’s been some discussion about whether all types of coffee are created equal when it comes to health benefits, since the active compounds may be more or less present in, say, boiled vs. brewed or caffeinated vs. decaffeinated coffees. Now, a new study suggests that coffee of any description seems to offer some level of protection against colon cancer. Whether the same is true for other types of cancer isn’t so clear just yet.
The researchers, from the University of Southern California and Clalit National Israeli Cancer Control Center, looked at data from 5100 people in Israel who had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer and 4000 people with no history of it. They asked them about their coffee habits, along with many other lifestyle habits. Specifically, the participants were asked what kinds of coffee they drank – espresso, decaf, regular, instant – and how much.
There was a clear connection between coffee drinking and not being diagnosed with colon cancer. People who drank between one and two cups per day had a 25% reduced chance of having colon cancer, and this reduction rose to 50% when a person drank more than two and a half cups per day. Even when variables like smoking, diet, and family history were accounted for, the results still held true. And what was more striking was that the type of coffee didn’t seem to make a difference.
“We were somewhat surprised to see that caffeine did not seem to matter,” said study author Stephen Gruber. “We found that drinking coffee is associated with lower risk of colorectal cancer, and the more coffee consumed, the lower the risk.”
Researchers don’t have everything mapped out just yet, but they’ve learned a good deal about why coffee, and its myriad compounds, may be good for so many of our organs, including the colon. One is mechanical: That is, coffee may simply speed up movement in the colon, moving waste out sooner, which may reduce our exposure to toxins. It may also help tweak the composition of bacteria in the gut, as do other elements of our diet (like eating vegetables), which is also known to influence cancer risk. And some of the compounds in coffee are believed to reduce cancer risk by altering gene expression, keeping a check on how fast cells proliferate, and by acting as antioxidants to stave off molecular damage.
Some research has suggested that boiled coffee may have a stronger effect for certain cancers, like prostate and breast, than filtered coffee, but the evidence has been mixed, and the difference less clear for other kinds of cancer. But with the new study, comes some sense that the type of coffee preparation, as well as the amount of caffeine, may not matter so much – at least for colon cancer.
“While the evidence certainly suggests this to be the case, we need additional research before advocating for coffee consumption as a preventive measure,” Gruber added. “That being said, there are few health risks to coffee consumption, I would encourage coffee lovers to revel in the strong possibility that their daily mug may lower their risk of colorectal cancer.”
More research will be needed to understand all the mechanisms, but in the meantime, it looks like a few cups of coffee per day can’t hurt, and may even help. So, if you’re enjoying the habit (and not feeling side effects), it seems to be OK to drink on, whatever your brew of choice may be.
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