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The Coffee Brew-haha

Most studies find drinking coffee brings health benefits, but old myths persist.

the coffee brew

— Bloomimage/Corbis

So far this year, the findings are enough to perk up coffee drinkers beyond what they get with their morning jolt.

In just the last five months, studies have found that coffee may protect against dementia, stroke and skin cancer.

This follows previous research—among some 20,000 studies to date exploring the health impact of America’s most popular beverage—that suggests regular coffee consumption may reduce the risk of Parkinson’s, type 2 diabetes, several types of cancer, suicide and some mood disorders, gallstones, liver cirrhosis and even cavities.

Coffee has long been known as an effective emergency treatment for an asthma attack and a go-to headache remedy, and, more recently, as an aid to help alcoholics quit drinking. It may even extend a person’s lifespan, researchers say. It’s the second most studied substance after cigarettes, and the studies keep percolating along.

In January, Finnish researchers reported in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that after tracking 1,400 adults for 20 years and controlling for their other lifestyle and dietary habits, those drinking three to five cups per day were two-thirds less likely to develop dementia than non-imbibers.

In February came two studies—one by Harvard University School of Public Health and Spanish researchers tracking 83,000 middle-aged women since 1980, and the other by University of California, Los Angeles and University of Southern California scientists analyzing data on 9,400 adults older than 40—that showed a lower risk of stroke among coffee drinkers, with rates decreasing with the more cups consumed each day. Then there was also research in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology suggesting that consuming caffeine may protect against skin cancer by disrupting a protein that causes sun-damaged skin cells to self-destruct.

March was quiet on the java front, but with April came two more findings: Researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., reported that among 1,100 women studied for 16 years, those who regularly drank coffee or tea had a lower risk of endometrial cancer compared with nondrinkers. The more coffee the women consumed, the lower the disease rates. And in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, scientists from the University of Iceland and the University of Illinois-Urbana found that drinking coffee seems to help relieve the pain of exercise.

Coffee shakes bad reputation

There seems to be a new coffee study published in medical journals every few weeks, for several reasons. It’s readily available, inexpensive and popular. Some 400 billion cups are consumed every year worldwide. It’s not fattening, with zero calories when served black or with artificial sweeteners. And, researchers say, it may just be one of the healthiest substances you can get.

But it wasn’t always regarded that way. Even today, some folks (typically, those not doing the research) still avoid this virtuous vice—believing coffee causes ailments ranging from bone loss and heart problems to stomach and pancreatic cancer and “the shakes.”

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