This Dark and Heady Brew

A cancer diagnosis is likely to spark quite a lot of nutritional and lifestyle advice, solicited or not, and mostly from non-medical and non-academic sources. As a patient, you should expect that your oncologist would take some time to go over healthy choices and delineate things that must be avoided for treatment to work properly. You may even be directed to a nutritionist. But beyond advice on how to balance a healthy diet and make beneficial lifestyle choices, you may not get much advice that qualifies as truly exciting, not to mention “mind-blowing.” Which is why it is a thrill to occasionally come across a legitimate study that sheds light on some typical dietary habits.

I’m not referring to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) report on processed meats and their associated increase in the risk of certain cancers, either. While that report was important, and the science behind it was very interesting, the conclusions could have been anticipated to some degree and fall in line with at least a little bit of common sense or conventional wisdom: healthy diets matter, moderation matters, lifestyle choices matter. Fiber matters (especially from fresh vegetables). No, the sort of advice coming out of the underlying study for the WHO report was “groundbreaking” but not “mind-blowing” or even exciting from an “I love eating and want to continue loving my food” point of view.

The Research on Coffee and Health

So when you are sitting at your desk, sipping away on that deeply roasted, sense-awakening cup of coffee and the link you have just clicked cuts past the academic jargon to reveal the simple premise that, hey, this stuff is actually good for you, you take note. It is the small things, after all, like the promise of your four-cup-per-day routine being not only within the realm of healthy consumption but quite possibly the prime amount to drink for maximum benefit! This, of course, is not medical advice. It is self-justification for my coffee habit that just happens to be rooted in a few studies.

The most recent analysis does go out of its way to state that it is not recommending coffee drinking as being “good for your health.” But it does show that coffee consumption may be linked with longer life spans, even if just moderately. And sometimes we need to read something that sounds positive, makes us feel proactive, and fits within the habits we already have. (Hey, you’re doing something great! Keep it up!)

The study of coffee’s potential health benefits is nothing new. Possibly because coffee is the world’s second most popular beverage (right behind water), researchers have long been looking at how it affects our bodies. It has been alternately derided because of the effect of caffeine on the heart and nervous system, and hailed because of, well, the effect of caffeine on the nervous system and organs involved in our body’s waste management (liver, kidneys, bile ducts, etc.). Way back in 2012, the Journal of Biomedical Science even reported a study showing promise for unfiltered coffee (such as espresso or French press) as a treatment for malignant pleural mesothelioma. Before rushing too far ahead, though, it should be noted that the study was about two specific chemicals from coffee and was conducted in a Petri dish, not a human body. Nobody is suggesting that a patient could drink enough coffee to safely cure disease.

More Than Just a Morning Pick-Me-Up

And there is no absolute consensus, really, on what constitutes a safe upper-limit of coffee consumption or how much must be consumed to achieve desired effects. But even if there is still question about causation, there is a growing body of evidence that a correlation does exist between moderate coffee drinking (generally considered between two and six cups of either regular or decaf) and a slightly longer lifespan, possibly due to a slightly reduced risk of certain diseases.

It may not mean that drinking coffee will actually make me live longer, but it may help me stay just a little healthier along the way. Maybe. What I do know for sure, however, is that by the time I will have finished this post, I will have enjoyed four cups of coffee, without which it may have been impossible to read through a few of those studies — reminding me of those all-nighters I used to pull in college back when the main reason for drinking coffee was often just to stay awake. It has been many years since I drank coffee for that reason, of course, having long since learned to budget my time and energy. But having the added kick to alert my brain is still a nice perk.

And at this stage of the game, I’ll take whatever perks I can get.1-6

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