In case you missed it: A Los Angeles judge ruled last week that coffee shops such as Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts must warn customers that coffee contains acrylamide — suspected cancer-causing chemical that forms during bean roasting.
But the consensus of scientific experts says the controversial cancer warning overstates the risks. In fact, multiple medical studies have found that the health benefits of drinking coffee far outweigh any potential downsides.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the research arm of the World Health Organization, has repeatedly found no conclusive evidence that drinking coffee boosts cancer risk. In addition, the WHO removed coffee from the organizations list of cancer-causing agents in 2016.
The court ruling stems from a 1986 California law that requires businesses to post warnings about chemicals in products they sell that cause a “significant cancer risk.”
But, in fact, a great deal of research has linked drinking coffee to longer life and a lower risk for many chronic diseases. The likely culprits in coffee’s benefits: The 200-plus organic compounds in coffee beans that have proven to reduce inflammation, regulate glucose levels, increase metabolism, and have other beneficial effects.
The most comprehensive study on coffee was published recently by by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers who found that people who drink about three to five cups of coffee a day are less likely to die prematurely from some illnesses than those who don’t drink or drink less coffee.
The study, published in the medical journal Circulation, found drinkers of both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee saw benefits — including a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, Type 2 diabetes, and even suicide. The study also found coffee consumption was not associated with cancer deaths.
“Bioactive compounds in coffee reduce insulin resistance and systematic inflammation,” explains lead researcher Ming Ding, a doctoral student in Harvard’s Department of Nutrition. “That could explain some of our findings. However, more studies are needed to investigate the biological mechanisms producing these effects.”
To reach their conclusions, researchers analyzed health data from participants in three large ongoing studies: 74,890 women in the Nurses’ Health Study; 93,054 women in the Nurses’ Health Study 2; and 40,557 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
Participants were surveyed every four years for three decades about diet, lifestyle, and other factors, including coffee consumption. Over the course of the study, 19,524 women and 12,432 men died from a range of causes.
The results indicated moderate coffee consumption was associated with reduced risk of death from all causes.
“This study provides further evidence that moderate consumption of coffee may confer health benefits in terms of reducing premature death due to several diseases,” notes researcher Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology. “These data support the [federal] Dietary Guidelines Advisory Report that concluded that ‘moderate coffee consumption can be incorporated into a healthy dietary pattern.’”
This month, medical experts at Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine weighed in on the topic in an editorial published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics. They noted research suggests lower death rates in coffee drinkers is likely due to their tendency to engage in increased physical activity, which combats obesity and other factors linked to health and longevity.
The FAU researchers noted studies show even individuals who walk briskly for 20 minutes a day, burning about 700 calories a week, have a 30-40 percent reduction in the risk of heart disease. Burning even more calories — between 3,000 and 3,500 calories a week — is associated with even greater reductions in death risk from cardiovascular disease as well as total mortality.
“In moderation, drinking coffee seems to increase our ability to perform strenuous exercise for longer periods of time,” FAU’s Dr. Steven F. Lewis, Ph.D., tells Newsmax Health. “Drinking coffee also reduces our perception of effort, discomfort and pain while we exercise.”
Lewis adds that coffee can raise a person’s resting metabolic rate by 5-7 percent, which can help offset weight gain as we age. On average, individuals gain about one pound per year between the ages of 25 to 55. This amounts from anywhere from 10 to 50 calories in a single bite depending on what is being consumed.
Lewis says an increase in metabolic rate from drinking coffee could counteract these extra bites of food and also help with the “battle of the bulge,” associated with heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and increased mortality.
Dr. Charles H. Hennekens, a health research and senior academic advisor to the dean in FAU’s College of Medicine, notes that physical inactivity is a major public health in the U.S. — accounting for about 22 percent of heart disease, 22 percent of colon cancer, 18 percent of bone fractures, 12 percent of diabetes and high blood pressure, and about five percent of breast cancer cases.
In addition, physical inactivity in the U.S. accounts for about 2.4 percent of health expenditures or about $24 billion a year.
“About 36 percent of American adults do not engage in any leisure-time physical activity, despite the fact that walking may be comparable to more vigorous exercise in preventing a cardiovascular event,” Hennekens tells Newsmax Health.
Three out of four Americans drink coffee regularly — about 64 percent daily, surveys show. That adds up to a per-capita consumption of about 30 gallons per person per year, by some estimates.
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