Yet again a piece of new research is all over the news. This time coffee and its supposed protective effects is getting all the press. This is always a bit of a confusing situation since this news gets highlighted and emphasized but its hard to get through the hype to the actual meaning and implications of the study. But here is a rare and complete piece of reporting by Kelly Crowe at CBC online news. In her article “What’s the fuss about coffee?” she explains how information like this gets reported and why you have to look beyond the headlines to the actual information being published. She dissects the study and very clearly points out why studies often only suggest possible relationships between A and long term effect B (here consuming 2+ cups of coffee daily may have possible positive effect on longevity). And yet the news usually reports these relationships as definite connections. All in all this is an excellent piece for those looking to have a more critical eye when reading breaking health news. (1,2)
And so what’s my take on coffee? There are certainly other studies that suggest that coffee/tea consumption reduces the risk of certain cancers (ie. invasive prostate and breast) (3,4). These studies do show statistically significant reductions, which means there is less of a possibility that the reduction was due to chance, but the reductions are low overall. None of them have looked at why this relationship may occur and if there are any other factors involved, though some suggested the benefit was independent of caffeine content. We do know that there are a lot of compounds in coffee and tea. There are some like bioflavenoids and antioxidants that have been otherwise shown to have benefits for overall health and cancer risks. Could that be why? Of course! Could it be something totally different? Absolutely. For example, is it possible that taking time in the morning to sit and drink your coffee or taking a coffee break in the day helps with stress reduction and that’s the reason for the benefit? Very possible, but right now, who knows?
So what do I say when someone asks me if I’m worried about their coffee intake? As always, I ask a tonne of questions like: how much do you drink, how much water are your drinking, why are you drinking it and how. If people are sitting and enjoying their coffee ritual in the morning or drinking it while socializing with friends, my assessment is that its helping their quality of life and not to worry. If its a compulsive or mindless experience (as in they just keep filling their cup with coffee and that’s just what they drink) or if its needed for energy, maybe we need to address that need or make healthier substitutions. But do I think coffee is an absolute poison? No. And do I think we all need to drink 2 cups to live longer? No, I don’t think there is near enough information to make that recommendation.
Today’s prescription: Sit and relax for a few. Maybe enjoy a cup of coffee or tea or the flowers outside, but enjoy!
~Dr Kellie Ferguson
(1) Crowe, Kelly. “What’s the fuss about coffee?” CBC news. May 17’12.