I was surprised to hear coffee might help prevent prostate cancer. I always tried to limit coffee drinking, thinking it was a bad habit. Can I enjoy it now?
Yes, for the most part. Studies linking various health benefits to coffee drinking have been mounting up over the past few years.
The most recent, which you mention, was conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health. Researchers examined data from 48,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which collected information from them every four years from 1986 to 2008.
In all, 5,035 cases of prostate cancer occurred during the study; 642 were fatal. But the researchers found that those who normally drank six or more cups of coffee a day had nearly a 20 percent lower risk of developing prostate cancer compared with those who did not drink any coffee. Also, the chance of developing the more aggressive type of prostate cancer decreased by 60 percent.
That study came on the heels of a Swedish study published in Breast Cancer Research. That study, which included 5,800 women, found that those who drank five or more cups of coffee a day had a significantly lower risk of developing non-hormone dependent breast cancer, which accounts for about three-quarters of all breast cancer diagnoses.
Previous research has linked coffee to decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, gout, symptomatic gallstone disease and possibly even liver disease in people who are high-risk (from alcoholism, obesity or diabetes, for example). In addition, a 2008 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine linked drinking more than six cups a day to an overall lower risk of death, especially from cardiovascular causes.
Coffee with caffeine can also have less-beneficial effects. It can increase blood pressure temporarily, and some studies have linked high doses of caffeine to miscarriage and reduced fertility. In addition, caffeine can interact with some medications, and unfiltered coffee (the type brewed with a French press) may increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol. So, talk with a health professional before changing your coffee-drinking habits.
Though it's unclear what exactly causes the health effects linked to heavy coffee consumption, the beverage is chock-full of antioxidants, and it's also the primary source of the trace element boron in the American diet. It also offers riboflavin, chromium, magnesium, niacin, manganese and potassium.
So, yes: Enjoy your coffee. More likely than not, it's good for you.
Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: This column was reviewed by Amber Riggin, a dietetic intern with Ohio State University Extension's Community Nutrition Programs.