Coffee is a fascinating food!  It grows all over the world and is consumed by people of diverse cultures.  To those of us who have a hard time existing without this tasty bean, there is mounting evidence that coffee has several disease-fighting properties due to its complex biochemical structure.  Coffee has been shown by scientists to possess anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-diabetic, and anti-angiogenic (it prevents new blood vessel growth in tumors) properties that are exerted by substances such as flavonoids, phenols (especially chlorogenic acid), and diterpines (such as kahweol).    Indeed, coffee is a cornucopia of phytochemicals and is an anticancer beverage with significant data to support this notion.  Some studies have shown inverse associations with developing Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes mellitus, and several cancers, including colon cancer, a very common cancer in the Western world.

So, I wanted to share a couple studies I recently came across in regards to the “black gold” of drinks!  Schmit et al. published an article in the April 2016 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention entitled “Coffee consumption and the risk of colorectal cancer.”  These authors looked at data generated from a population-based study performed in Israel known as the Molecular Epidemiology of Colorectal Cancer (MECC) study.   This data showed that compared to non-coffee drinkers, regular coffee drinkers had a 26% lower risk of getting colorectal cancer; the reduction with decaffeinated coffee was 18%.  The risk reduction was related to number of cups of coffee per day–with those who drank more than 2.5 cups daily having a 54% lower risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer compared to those who drank less than one cup a day.

Dr. Guerico and colleagues published a study in the November 1, 2015 issue of perhaps the most well-respected oncology journal, The Journal of Clinical Oncology, in regards to coffee consumption and risk of recurrence or death in stage III patients.  They examined colorectal cancer recurrence in those who were treated for stage III colon cancer as part of a clinical trial of chemotherapy several years ago.   Researchers recorded intake of coffee (decaf and regular) as well as 128 other foods, beverages, and vitamin supplements .  Using complex statistics, the researchers looked for the effect of coffee on recurrence of colon and rectal cancer as well as death.  They found that those who drank 4 or more cups of coffee daily had a 42% reduction in systemic recurrence or death from colon cancer, compared to never drinkers of coffee.  It seemed that caffeine was protective as well, as increasing intake of caffeine reduced cancer recurrence or death by about 44%.  Interestingly, they also found that non-herbal tea and decaf coffee did not seem to provide benefit.    The benefit of coffee persisted even after controlling for other predictors of long-term outcome in colon cancer patients such as exercise, daily sugar intake, and overall dietary patterns.

Wow!!  Even though this data suggests, but does not prove, that coffee may prevent getting colon cancer in the first place and   improve outcomes in those who have had colorectal cancer, it is important to pay attention to.   The biologic reasons why coffee may be beneficial are complex, but may include the vast array of phytonutrients (hundreds) that inhibit cancer cell formation, growth, and spread.  Anyway, I am between patients and need to leave to grab a cup of Joe!
Mark A. Marinella, MD, FACP

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