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Is Coffee Good for You?

Is Coffee Good for You?
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Coffee drinkers may have a lower risk of Parkinson's, depression, Alzheimer's, and a common type of skin cancer
Coffee packs a load of free radical-fighting antioxidants, but it's not usually considered a health food. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that your morning cup of joe won't raise your risk of many diseases--and it might actually help prevent some important ones.

A healthy habit?

Coffee drinkers may have a lower risk of Parkinson's disease, depression, Alzheimer's disease, and a common type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma. But the standard advice is to limit coffee consumption, mostly because of concerns that it might increase heart disease risk. As part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)-Germany study, 42,659 people (average age 50 years) reported on the amount and type (regular or decaf) of coffee they drank. For nine years, the researchers kept track of how many people developed type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, or cancer. Here's what the study showed:

  • Drinking regular or decaf coffee was not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease or cancer.
  • People who drank 4 or more cups of regular or decaf coffee per day had a 23% and 30% lower chance, respectively, of developing type 2 diabetes than people who drank less than one cup of coffee per day.

"Despite a general belief that coffee may be harmful, the current study found no association between coffee consumption and the risk of chronic disease," commented the study's authors. They suggest that other factors like smoking might have confounded the results of earlier studies suggesting that excessive coffee drinking increased heart disease risk, however, as this was an observational study, which can detect patterns but not prove cause and effect, more research is needed to clarify this point.

Think before you chug

For best health, it's wise to opt for a lifestyle of well-known healthy habits, and not rely on any one substance where its role in heart health isn't well understood. Coffee contains acids that can upset the stomach and cause heartburn. Too much caffeine can also cause irregular heartbeat and interfere with sleep. Pregnant and breast-feeding women are advised to limit caffeine intake, as it can directly affect the developing fetus.

Fortunately, there are lots of other ways to lower your chances of developing chronic disease, like maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a whole foods diet, not smoking, and having a pet.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95:901-8)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation's premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.