AICR eNews May 2012 | Issue 70

30 Years of Research
Coffee and Your Health: Tonic, Toxic or Too Soon to Know?

Coffee beans poured over two Stacked Green cups and saucersIf you're like many Americans, you brew, purchase or help yourself at work to at least some coffee every day. Over half of American adults drink, on average, slightly more than 3 cups of coffee daily. Although the amount we drink as a nation has decreased since the 1940s, coffee is still one of America's most popular beverages.

Coffee and Health: A Jittery History

Some small population surveys in the 1960s linked coffee to heart disease and one researcher pronounced caffeine a cause of certain cancers and heart disease based on observations of animals injected with caffeine. Throughout the 1970s and 80s coffee research focused on these diseases: some suggested that the popular beverage increased risk of bladder and pancreatic cancers, and that people who drank more coffee had a higher risk of heart disease. Standard treatment for stomach ulcers included eliminating coffee from the diet.

As researchers continued to study coffee's health effects using more rigorous methods and with larger groups of people, the links reported in earlier studies failed to turn up. And although coffee can irritate an untreated ulcer, it does not cause one. In fact, the story of coffee and health began to point in a different direction.

Coffee Now: Cancer and Other Chronic Diseases

AICR's 2007 expert report judged that coffee is unlikely to either increase or decrease the risk of pancreatic or kidney cancer – the two cancers with enough evidence to make a conclusion. More recently, major studies and reviews found no association with breast, ovarian, prostate, stomach or colon cancer risk.

A European study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in February of 2012 concluded that coffee (caffeinated and decaffeinated) is not associated with overall risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer risk. However, the study did show a lower risk of type 2 diabetes linked to coffee.

Possible Health Benefits

  • Type 2 Diabetes: Studies from the U.S., Australia and Europe show a possible lower risk of type 2 diabetes for long-term coffee drinkers.
  • Parkinson's Disease (PD): More research needs to be done, but global studies show a link between coffee and lower risk of PD.
  • Heart Disease: The most recent studies do not show a harmful effect of coffee on heart disease; in fact some research suggests that coffee may slightly reduce risk of stroke.

What's in coffee that might be good for us? Caffeine may have some health-protecting qualities and coffee also contains antioxidant compounds that may help cells grow normally and reduce chronic inflammation.

Coffee Cautions

Research continues on coffee, cancer and other chronic diseases, so we can't pronounce coffee a "health food" until we know more about the many ways it affects us. And we know that coffee is not for everyone. Here are some reasons to avoid or limit coffee:

  • Consuming high amounts of caffeine in pregnancy may increase risk of late miscarriage and stillbirth.
  • Coffee may worsen symptoms of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
  • Many coffee beverages contain cream, sugar and syrups that can boost calorie content, some as high as several hundred calories.
  • Regularly drinking coffee prepared using the French press method may lead to increased blood LDL levels (cholesterol that is associated with heart disease risk).


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