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American Institute for Cancer Research: Coffee may be protective against some cancers

January 16, 2013

Thanks to the Boston Tea Party in 1773, coffee is the patriotic drink in America. Coffee breaks became part of the routine in workplaces, homes and churches after an ad campaign in 1952 promoted the idea. Today, you can find a Starbucks on almost every corner. So, is that daily Cup of Joe really as bad for you as they say?

coffee_can_fight_cancerWell, when it comes to cancer prevention, coffee may be finding a place. Early in research, some studies hinted that coffee might increase cancer risk. Now, with over 1,000large and well-designed studies, the American Institute for Cancer Research says just the opposite: it may be protective for some cancers. Overall, coffee is a good source of riboflavin (vitamin B2) and contains a concentrated source of a number of antioxidant phytochemicals. Through laboratory studies, scientists have identified several phytochemicals that help control cell growth and reduce cancer cell development.

Although it gets a bad rap, caffeine may be the reason coffee shows protection against colorectal cancer. It is thought that the carcinogens’ passage through our digestive tract is sped up by caffeine, therefore reducing the time our body is exposed to them. Cell studies demonstrate caffeine may also alter cell signaling to decrease colorectal cancer growth. Chlorogenic acid, a major plant phenol in coffee, has shown antioxidant activity in lab studies. Caffeic acid appears to work against cancer development in several stages by helping to regulate cell growth, reduce inflammation and increase self-destruction of cancer cells (apoptosis).

coffee_can_fight_cancerKahweol and cafestol are compounds extracted from the beans' oil during brewing. In cell and animal studies, these elements have been noted to promote enzymes that make carcinogens harmless and block the proteins that activate carcinogens. Highest concentrations of kahweol and cafestol are found in unfiltered coffee such as French press, Turkish or Greek coffee. Coffee is also a source of lignans, one of the major classes of phytoestrogens. Labs studies suggest these plant compounds may shift estrogen metabolism and regulators of cell growth resulting in promotion of apoptosis.

Roasting coffee beans forms the chemical N-methylpyridinium (NMB), which may increase the potency of the antioxidants. Decaffeinated coffee may contain a slightly lower amount of chlorogenic acid than regular but still possesses a sufficient amount of phytochemicals. Instant coffee may be lower in antioxidant power than brewed coffee, however further research in necessary.

Relatively large and well-designed population studies now provide good evidence that up to 6 cups of coffee per day do not increase the risk of most cancers. Current research even suggests that coffee might decrease your risk of certain cancers. The AICR states that diets high in coffee are unlikely to have a substantial effect on the risk of pancreatic and kidney cancers.

Note: Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. Consumption of caffeine can cause increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, headaches, nervousness, dizziness, dehydration, upset stomach or heart burn. A moderate amount of caffeine is considered to be 200-300mg/day, about 2-3 eight-ounce cups of regular coffee.