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Will a cup a day keep the doctor away?


If you can't get through your morning without a couple cups of coffee, there's good news. Recent health studies show that coffee may be good for your brain and may help prevent certain diseases. Lorraine Rapp and Linda Lowen, hosts of WRVO's health and wellness show "Take Care," recently spoke with health journalist Gretchen Reynolds about what researchers are learning about the health benefits of coffee.

Lorraine Rapp: Tell us about some of the recent studies linking coffee consumption with the reduction in developing some certain diseases.

Gretchen Reynolds: One of the things they found in a very large study that was conducted by the National Cancer Institute was that people, both men and women, who were drinking two to three cups of coffee a day -- and those are five ounce cups of coffee, not two or three 16 ounce cups of coffee -- those people tended to live longer by a significant amount. They were much less likely to have died at the end of the period than the people who were drinking no coffee. And they didn’t ask people about whether it was caffeinated or not. Other studies have then looked at the association between drinking coffee and developing certain diseases. There’s a very, very strong association between drinking two or three cups of coffee and lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes. Exactly why is not completely clear, but it’s probably because the coffee affects how well you metabolize blood sugar.  If you metabolize blood sugar better, you lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. There was also a very strong association with not developing certain kinds of skin cancers and with not developing a recurrence of breast cancer.

Lorraine Rapp: Do scientists know what specific properties of coffee are responsible?

Gretchen Reynolds: As a matter of fact, no. And that is being very, very aggressively investigated in a number of studies. What they have found in particular with diabetes studies. But in these studies they have tried to control for people who are overweight, or smoke, or have really bad health habits. Doesn’t seem to matter if you have good health habits or bad health habits, drinking coffee does reduce your risks of developing these diseases.

Lorraine Rapp: Does caffeine have the same benefits if it’s in soda or tea as it does in coffee?

Gretchen Reynolds: The very short answer to that is it probably does have the exact same benefits, but you can pretty much cancel them out if add tons of sugar to the beverage that you’re drinking.

Linda Lowen: For those who don’t drink coffee, should they think about drinking coffee?

Gretchen Reynolds: Well, there are scientists who are saying yes. Some of the scientists who are looking at the effect on preventing Alzheimer’s are actually at the point of saying if you want to lessen your risk of dementia, then it probably is a good idea if you’re middle aged and not drinking coffee to consider taking up the habit.

Lorraine Rapp: What are the downsides to drinking a few cups of coffee a day?

Gretchen Reynolds: There’s very clear proof that it does raise your blood pressure, especially if you’re not acclimated to coffee. And that’s one reason you really should not be giving energy drinks, coffee, anything to young people, and that includes even teenagers. There is no evidence that it’s healthy for them. If you have a history of cardiac problems, or any concerns about your blood pressure, see your doctor before you start taking coffee or increase how much you’re drinking.

More of this interview can be heard on "Take Care," WRVO's health and wellness show Sunday at 6:30 p.m.  Support for this story comes from the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York.