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Can Your Coffee Break Protect You Against Cancer?

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Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

Want to cut your endometrial cancer risk by 25 percent? Pour yourself a cup of Joe.

Harvard researchers say coffee, one of the most popular drinks on earth, is emerging as a protective agent in cancer linked to estrogen, insulin and obesity.

A study published in the American Association for Cancer Research journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention found long-term coffee consumption may be associated with a reduced risk for endometrial cancer, the most common type of uterine cancer.

Endometrial cancer starts in the lining of the uterus. Although the exact cause is unknown, an increased level of the female hormone, estrogen, seems to play a role.

“Coffee has already been shown to be protective against diabetes due to its effect on insulin,” said Edward Giovannucci, M.D., Sc.D., a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, and senior researcher on the study. “So we hypothesized that we’d see a reduction in some cancers as well.”

The study involved the cumulative coffee intake of 67,470 women who enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study. Of those women, 672 cases of endometrial cancer were observed during 26 years of follow up.

The study showed drinking more than four cups of coffee per day was linked with a 25 percent reduced risk for endometrial cancer. Drinking between two and three cups per day was linked with a 7 percent reduced risk.

If coffee causes you the jitters, take heart. Decaffeinated coffee showed similar benefits, where drinking more than two cups per day was associated with a 22 percent reduced risk for endometrial cancer.

The researchers believe a high concentration of antioxidants, not caffeine, may be the mechanism producing the protective benefits. “Laboratory testing has found that coffee has much more antioxidants than most vegetables and fruits.” Giovannucci said.

But women who smoke while drinking coffee are likely to nix any benefits, he says. “If you drink coffee and smoke, the positive effects of coffee are going to be more than outweighed by the negative effects of smoking,” said Giovannucci, in a media release.

Giovannucci is among a new school of java advocates. Researchers at University of California Los Angeles and University of Arizona found the caffeine in coffee improves the memory in seniors. Other studies have found coffee therapeutic for depression, addiction, gallstones, and even skin cancer. But not all experts agree coffee is healthful for everyone.

Despite the protective qualities of Joe, Dr. Jim Lane, a researcher at Duke University Medical School who has studied coffee for more than a decade, says the buzz regular coffee drinkers -- that’s half the U.S. adult population -- get each day by drinking an average of 3 to 4 cups raises people’s blood pressure enough to increase the risk of heart attack or stroke 20 to 30 percent.

In an interview with CBS, Lee said, "That might be 100 million people who are putting themselves at great risk of a heart attack, a stroke or early death as a result of the coffee drinking they do."

Lynette Summerill, an award-winning writer and scuba enthusiast lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and two canine kids. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.


American Association for Cancer Research News Release. Coffee May Protect Against Endometrial Cancer. Jeremy Moore. 15 Nov. 2011.
Abstract: A Prospective Cohort Study of Coffee Consumption and Risk of Endometrial Cancer over a 26-Year Follow-Up:

Endometrial Cancer. PubMed Health. Accessed online 16 November 2011 at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001908

Caffeine Nation. CBS News. Rome Neal 11 Feb. 2009. Accessed online 16 November 2011 at: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/11/14/sunday/main529388.shtml

Reviewed November 22, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment1 Comments


The good and the bad effects of coffee will probably be a topic of discussion for a long time.  i feel that like everything else that we eat or drink moderation is the key.  

November 23, 2011 - 8:12pm
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