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More Coffee, Less Cancer Risk

Antioxidants in coffee protect against cell changes that can lead to prostate and endometrial cancer, new study says.

Evidence continues to percolate on the health-protecting powers of coffee, with new research suggesting the more coffee people drink, the lower the risk of two types of cancer—prostate and endometrial.

In one study tracking some 50,000 men for 20 years, Harvard School of Public Health researcher Kathryn Wilson found that coffee drinkers had an overall 20 percent reduced risk of all forms of prostate cancer compared with men who didn’t drink it. And the risk of developing advanced forms that often spread beyond the prostate was lower with increasing amounts: at one to three cups daily, it was 20 percent lower compared with nondrinkers, 25 percent less with four to five cups, and 60 percent less with six or more cups.

Another study, conducted over 17 years on more than 60,000 Swedish women, found that women who drank at least two cups daily had a lower risk of endometrial cancer than those who drank less. Additional cups lowered the risk even further, researchers reported in the Nov. 15 issue of the International Journal of Cancer. The benefit of coffee was most pronounced in overweight and obese women, who face the greatest risk of endometrial cancer. Both teams are trying to determine the exact reasons for the benefit, but suspect that a bounty of antioxidants in coffee may better regulate insulin resistance and hormones, which play a role in both cancers—as well as in preventing type 2 diabetes.

As far as the prostate cancer results, “we need to see if this pans out in other studies,” says Wilson, whose research was presented at an American Association for Cancer Research conference last December. “But in terms of overall health, you could say, ‘drink more.’ ”

Many other studies, she says, have found that drinking lots of coffee reduces risk of type 2 diabetes, liver cancer, and other conditions. “And coffee intake has not been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, in spite of some fears about that,” Wilson adds.

Although some previous studies linked coffee with bone loss in older women and short-term increases in blood pressure, recent research finds no significant risk of heart or bone problems for those who drink up to four cups per day.

Both findings come as no surprise to Peter Martin, M.D., director of Vanderbilt University’s Institute for Coffee Studies. “There are many powerful antioxidants in coffee that protect against damage that cause cell changes that can lead to cancer,” he told AARP Bulletin Today. “These studies add to an already large number of others suggesting that coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of many conditions.”

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.

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