The Link Between Coffee and Colon Cancer

We’ve got another reason not to feel guilty for loading up on caffeinated coffee. Researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston found that “Higher coffee intake may be associated with significantly reduced cancer recurrence and death in patients with stage III colon cancer.”

Recent research has shown that drinking coffee daily may help protect against type 2 diabetes, dementia, and certain cancers. This latest study throws colon cancer protection into the growing pile of coffee drinking perks. Published August 2015 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, this study is the first to cite a link between coffee and colon cancer, and hopefully not the last.

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Researchers analyzed detailed dietary pattern questionnaires filled out by 952 patients with stage III colon cancer during and 6 months after adjuvant chemotherapy. These questionnaires accounted for daily consumption of caffeinated coffee, decaffeinated coffee, nonherbal tea, and 128 other items, including caffeinated soft drinks and chocolate.

In analyzing the effect of coffee, nonherbal tea, and caffeine on colon cancer recurrence and death, researchers adjusted for controls such as gender, age, smoking, diet, caloric intake, consumption of sugary drinks and alcohol, weight, and physical activity. However, researchers did not adjust for use of aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which have exhibited an anti-cancer benefit in past studies. Researchers note that because this is the first study to examine the impact of coffee on colon cancer, no definitive cause-and-effect link could be established and corroborating studies need to be conducted. Dr. Charles S. Fuchs, the director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and lead researcher, explains:

“No one has ever done this before in colon cancer patients. It does require confirmation,” he said. Patients should not start drinking coffee based on this study, but, “If you’re a coffee drinker and enjoy your coffee, stick with it,” he said. “If a patient says, ‘Well I hate coffee,’ I’d say there are other things you can do, like avoid obesity, exercise regularly and follow a balanced diet.”

Results showed that colon cancer patients who drank 2-3 cups of coffee a day had a 31% lower risk of death or cancer recurrence than did patients who did not drink coffee. Patients who drank 4 or more cups of coffee each day had a 52% less risk of death or cancer recurrence than abstainers did! Nonherbal tea and decaf coffee showed no such association on patient outcome.

The protective benefits of coffee, especially on diabetes, is normally attributed to its antioxidant properties; however, results from this most recent study suggest it’s the caffeine factor that offers the potential benefit. Increasing caffeine intake also conferred a significant reduction in death risk and cancer recurrence. Scientists hypothesize that caffeine increases insulin sensitivity, which means your body becomes more responsive to insulin and your pancreas doesn’t need to produce as much of the hormone. This helps lower inflammation in your body and protect against type 2 diabetes and cancer.

The moral of the research? If you’ve been struggling to give up your coffee addiction, then maybe relax, unless, of course, you’re following doctor’s orders. And if you’re not a coffee drinker, no reason to start. Enjoy the antioxidant power and smaller dose of caffeine in heart healthy black tea!

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