What You Need to Know About Coffee and Your Health

Our favorite morning beverage and afternoon pick-me-up was evaluated for how it impacts the risk of cancer in people. Well, good news! Coffee is no longer deemed as a possible carcinogen and recent research even shows drinking coffee might help prevent cancer. 

What is IARC and what do they have to do with coffee?

IARC, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, headquartered in Lyon, France, operates as part of the World Health Organization (WHO). Three times a year, IARC forms working groups to evaluate how something (like certain occupational chemicals, foods, or even the sun) impacts the risk of cancer in people. This quarter, they reviewed coffee and released their report on June 15 classifying coffee as ‘Group 3.’ Previously, coffee was classified as 'Group 2B' or as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." 

What does a 'Group 3' classification mean?

IARC classifies agents into one of 5 different categories.  The ‘Group 3’ category is used most commonly for agents for which the evidence of carcinogenicity is inadequate in humans and inadequate or limited in experimental animals.

James R. Coughlin, Ph.D. CFS, an independent consultant in Food/Nutritional/Chemical Toxicology, Safety & Regulatory Affairs for Coughlin & Associates, said: “While IARC’s Working Group classified coffee as Group 3, not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans, what this really means is that IARC was not able to find even limited evidence of coffee drinking causing human cancer. What I truly believe, based on my 35 years of study on coffee and cancer, is that coffee drinking does not cause human cancer, and in fact, it actually helps to reduce the risk of several forms of human cancer.”

What does the research say about coffee and cancer?

Recent research related to coffee and cancer is encouraging. A recent meta-analysis of 59 studies suggested that consuming coffee can actually “reduce the total cancer incidence and it also has an inverse association with some type of cancers.” Another review of scientific data done in 2015 concluded that “according to the current state of knowledge, coffee consumption is not associated with the majority of cancers although the results of studies on bladder and lung cancer remain conflicting. In the case of colorectal, liver and breast cancers, coffee drinking may even have a protective effect.” A study published in April 2015 in Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. showed that coffee decreased the risk of colorectal cancer in a dose-response manner.

Does consuming coffee have any other health benefits?

Dr. Julie M. Jones, Endowed Chair in Science at St. Catherine University, says:

“When consumed in moderation, coffee has many health benefits. The caffeine in coffee, when used properly, can help you solve problems faster and be more alert. Too much coffee, however, can impact sleep patterns, especially when consumed late in the day.”

And the benefits don’t stop there.  Coffee consumption may reduce the risk of diabetes (type 2) and high blood pressure as well as depression. It has been shown to not be harmful, and may be slightly beneficial to helping prevent coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, heart arrhythmias and stroke. There is some evidence to suggest that coffee drinking may offer some protection against cognitive decline and the risk of Parkinson's disease and may improve asthma control.

How much coffee is safe to drink?

Dr. Jones concludes that: “The daily intake of ∼2 to 3 cups of coffee appears to be safe and is associated with either no adverse effect or, as mentioned, increased beneficial effects for most of the studied health outcomes.  Only if you are an extreme coffee drinker would I recommend any changes in coffee consumption.  I would make these recommendations mostly on the effects that excessive coffee consumption has on nervousness and sleep patterns. And excesses of anything usually are not good.”

Should moms and moms-to-be be concerned about drinking coffee?

When it comes to caffeine, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2015 reaffirmed their position that 200 mg of caffeine posed no adverse risks to pregnancy outcome.  On average that is the amount of caffeine in a 12 oz. serving of caffeinated coffee. (The amount varies by preparation method, roasting degree etc.) 

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