My father started and ended every day with a cup of coffee. Although my brothers, sister and I picked up his habit, none of us imagined he was happily consuming a health food. Neither, I’m sure, did he. But unknown to us then, what we called “a cup of mud” might actually be good for you.
Photo: Old Essex Market Coffee Shop by David Stone
I brought Maureen, my fiancee, to meet my family at a holiday get-together. When I walked her in the door, Dad was enjoying a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. Before long, Maureen, a nurse, volunteered that coffee wasn’t good for you.
“Whoever told you that?” Dad scoffed.
Maureen froze. She was trying to be helpful, not expecting resistance.
But the correct answer would have been, “Everybody.”
Our generation learned to distrust experts as it became clear that a main ambition of many was to figure out what was wrong with whatever it was we enjoyed and expose it.
They were wrong about coffee and premarital sex, and so was Maureen. More so as the years went by.
Starbucks was right, although turning their stores into study halls for lonely millennials was a mistake.
Who guessed that consuming coffee would evolve, in the short lifespan of Seattle’s beverage giant, from health risk to salubrious, including reduced cancer risk?
I’d like to claim that I did, but no, my avid coffee consumption was aimed at nothing more elevated than staying more awake for longer periods than my competitors.
Estimates are that 130 million Americans drink coffee every day, and there were times during my sales career when I believed most of them were in the Starbucks line ahead of me.
I’m tempted to say, “130,000,000 Americans can’t be wrong,” but that would be a cliche, so I won’t.
A new report from the World Health Organization is good news for every wide awake one of us.
Removing the Bigger “C” from Coffee
In a case of guilty until proven innocent, WHO condemned coffee as “possibly carcinogenic” in 1991, based on weak links to bladder cancer.
This claim ranks right up there with the feverishly promoted high carb diets that ushered in the obesity epidemic, both based on weak evidence and a pronounced dislike for seeing others enjoy themselves.
Since then, a steady stream of studies report positive statistical relationships between coffee drinking and heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
Only a quarter century after its first report, WHO decided to look again, and it helped them avoid looking foolish for several more years.
How many times were we lectured about how bad drinking coffee was in the meantime?
Should we expect apologies?
No, probably not.
But when WHO got around to setting up a working group of 23 scientists to look at hundreds of studies, they had no choice but to make a retraction. And then some.
“After thoroughly reviewing more than 1000 studies in humans and animals, the Working Group found that there was inadequate evidence for the carcinogenicity of coffee drinking overall,” their report conceded.
Translation: coffee doesn’t cause cancer.
Sorry, Juan Valdez and fellow travelers for all those lost years and caffeine highs.
Reluctantly, it continued, “Many epidemiological studies showed that coffee drinking had no carcinogenic effects for cancers of the pancreas, female breast, and prostate, and reduced risks were seen for cancers of the liver and uterine endometrium. (Emphasis mine.)
As far as I’m concerned, they saved the best for last: Coffee is associated with a reduced risk for some cancers.
That’s good news, but the experts couldn’t bring themselves to say so in plain English.
As quoted in the New York Times, Geoffrey Kabat, a cancer epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said, “What the evidence shows over all is that coffee drinking is associated with either reduced risk of several cancers or certainly no clear increase in other cancers. There’s a strong signal that this is probably not something that we need to be worrying about.”
And in 2018, an American Medical Association review analyzed information from 500,000 study volunteers that revealed “coffee drinkers were found to be about 10 percent to 15 percent less likely to die than non-coffee drinkers during a decade of follow-up checks.”
The amount of coffee appeared to be of little relevance, as long as you had some.
No one is sure why coffee has a positive effect on numerous human functions, but as far as cancer reduction goes, it’s antioxidant affect has long been recognized. Antioxidants are also suspected as responsible for similar healthful affects seen in red wine drinkers.
Which makes me think I need to do some wine research. Have my vices actually been benefits, all this time?
Dad was not a wine drinker. I’ll have to do my own research on this one