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American Cancer Society: Drinking Coffee Can Prevent Some Cancers

July 29, 2020

All this time we’ve spent thinking of ways to avoid cancer and an answer is sitting in front of us every morning in our steaming cup of coffee.

The American Cancer Society, in a new level of definitiveness when it updated guidelines last month for diet and physical activity for the first time since 2012, cited studies that coffee consumption reduces the risk of liver and endometrial cancers while providing some evidence that it also reduces basal cell skin cancer and the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx and larynx.

It’s not just coffee. The ACS says a healthy body weight, healthy diet, physical activity and limiting alcohol are the foundations of a cancer-free life. These factors account for at least 18 percent of all cancers and about 16 percent of cancer deaths in the United States.

But what about coffee? Americans drink about 400 million cups a day and 146 billion cups a day. The Average Joe drinks 3.1 cups a day. That sounds like a massive dose of cancer-killer. Coffee’s benefits are linked to flavonoids and other polyphenols, potent antioxidants that, says the ACS, “have been shown to increase energy expenditure, inhibit cellular damage, regulate genes involved in DNA repair, have anti-inflammatory properties and/or inhibit metastasis.”

“While I am not sure that there is enough data to suggest that people should drink coffee or tea for this preventive purpose,” says Dr. Andrew Salner, director of the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at Hartford Hospital, “I do believe we can tell them that they do not need to quit their coffee or tea, as long as they are drinking them in moderation. We have relatively little data on other antioxidants other than knowing that a diet that is more plant-based with fewer saturated fats is more likely to be healthy and be associated with a lower cancer risk.”

The updated guidelines, used as a resource by physicians across the country, do not recommend how much coffee to drink. They do, however, dismiss previous concerns about trace amounts of acrylamide, an organic compound used in the manufacturing of paper and plastics and the water treatment. A large number of epidemiologic studies, says the ACS, found “no strong evidence that dietary acrylamide exposure is associated with the risk of any type of cancer.”

The ACS also cautioned coffee lovers to avoid drinking their hot beverage when too hot: Some studies have suggested that above 149 degrees, any drink can increase the risk of esophageal cancer. So enjoy the aroma for a couple minutes before diving in!

Here are the Cancer Society’s diet and physical activity recommendations:

  • Get to and stay at a healthy body weight throughout life. If you’re overweight or obese, losing even a few pounds can lower your risk for some types of cancer.
  • Adults should get 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or a combination. Getting 300 minutes or even more will give you the most health benefits.
  • Children and teens should get at least 1 hour of moderate or vigorous intensity activity each day.
  • Spend less time sitting or lying down. This includes time looking at your phone, tablet, computer or TV.
  • Eat a colorful variety of vegetables and fruits, and plenty of whole grains and brown rice.
  • Avoid or limit eating red meats such as beef, pork, and lamb and processed meats such as bacon, sausage, deli meats, and hot dogs.
  • Avoid or limit sugar-sweetened beverages, highly processed foods, and refined grain products.
  • It is best not to drink alcohol. But if you do, women should have no more than 1 drink per day and men should have no more than 2. A drink is 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

“Importantly,” says Dr. Salner, “when considering cancer risk reduction, it is worth keeping in mind that preventing smoking/tobacco initiation and improving smoking/tobacco cessation rates remain the most important way to reduce cancer mortality rates.”

For information on the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute, click here.

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