Health & wellness

Coffee may lower some disease risks

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Research suggesting that there may be some potential health benefits to coffee is growing. One recent study found that those who sipped several cups every day had a decreased risk of developing multiple sclerosis. Another, published on Monday in the journal Heart, found that consuming three to five cups a day was associated with less calcium buildup in the arteries.

“We found a U-shaped curve that was consistent with other studies,” said Heart study co-author Dr. Eliseo Guallar, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. “Those who drank three to five cups had the most protection, while those who drank one to two cups or more than five cups had a little less protection from clogged arteries.”

But it’s premature to start thinking of coffee as a health food. The Heart study, along with other recent similar research efforts, doesn’t prove that coffee drinking confers benefits. It does add to the evidence that coffee may offer some protection from heart disease — for reasons that have yet to be explained by researchers.

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In fact, nutrition leaders counsel prudence. A group of them reviewed dozens of coffee studies before issuing the latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in draft form last month.

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“For the general population, we concluded that there is strong evidence that moderate coffee consumption of three to five 8-ounce cups of coffee — up to 400 milligrams of caffeine — is not associated with long-term health consequences,” said Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, who served on the dietary guidelines panel.

“There is moderate evidence that regular consumption of coffee is associated with lower risks of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and some cancers,” Hu said.

But he emphasized that the evidence — based on observational studies which could not conclusively prove that coffee drinking led to reductions in health risks — wasn’t strong enough to recommend that noncoffee drinkers start a java habit.

Hu and his colleagues also cautioned pregnant women to consume less caffeine, no more than 200 mg per day, to avoid possible health risks associated with coffee drinking during pregnancy such as babies born prematurely or at a low birth weight. Young children and teens were also urged to avoid heavy caffeine use because of concerns over a recent rise in pediatric emergency room visits and deaths attributed to caffeine overdose.

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DEBORAH KOTZ