Over the past few decades, coffee’s reputation has flip-flopped faster than a politician’s. In 1991, the World Health Organisation classified the beverage as a “possible carcinogen.” Then, in 2016, the organisation found that there was “no conclusive evidence for a carcinogenic effect of drinking coffee.” And in between, most of the news about coffee was largely positive: That, instead of being harmful to your health, regular coffee consumption (in moderation, of course), is actually good for you.
Then, in March of 2018, a Los Angeles-based judge ruled that companies must put cancer warning labels on coffee products sold in California. The reason: When roasted, coffee produces a chemical called acrylamide, which is classified as a carcinogen in California.
But here’s the thing: Acrylamide has only been shown to cause cancer in lab rodents.
“Large amounts of acrylamide has been shown to cause cancer in animal models, but there’s no compelling evidence showing that it increases the risk of cancer in humans,” says Catherine Carpenter, PhD, MPH, an investigator of cancer risk from dietary patterns and adjunct professor at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition.
Plus, in rodent studies, she says, “animals are exposed to up to 60 times higher concentration of acrylamide than what humans are exposed to.” If you were drinking enough coffee every day to be exposed to that much acrylamide, you'd probably have bigger problems than just increased cancer risk.
Still feeling uneasy about your daily cup of joe? Here are five research-backed reasons to turn on your coffee pot.
1. Coffee might help lower your risk of certain cancers
There are more than 1,000 compounds in coffee, many of which likely harbor anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer compounds, according to a recent BMJ research review. “The coffee bean itself has antioxidants in it, which help prevent free radical damage that could potentially lead to cancer,” explains Susan Oh, MPH, director of the nutrition research program at Johns Hopkins, who was not involved with the study.
According to the report, coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of melanoma and leukemia, as well as prostate and endometrial cancers. What’s more, a 2017 University of Southern California study found that coffee drinkers were 26 percent less likely to develop colorectal cancer than non-coffee drinkers. And those who drank more than 2.5 servings a day were 54 percent less likely to get the cancer.
2. Coffee might prevent type 2 diabetes
Diabetes is on the upswing in the United States: About 1.5 million people are diagnosed each year, according to the American Diabetes Association, and approximately 7.2 million people have the disease but don’t know it yet. But it's not all bad news. Researchers from Harvard University believe that drinking coffee—either decaf or regular—might help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes, the most common form. According to the analysis, which was published in the journal Diabetes Care, the more coffee people drink, the less likely they are to develop type 2 diabetes. (It is possible to overdo it, though. To keep insomnia, tummy troubles, and migraines at bay, health experts recommend drinking no more than four 8-ounce coffees daily.)
Oh was not involved with the study, but points out that coffee contains chromium, a mineral that helps the body utilize insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
3. Coffee could decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s
Over the past decade, studies have found a link between coffee consumption and a lower risk of dementia. It’s thought that the drink’s high caffeine content might be responsible for the brain-boosting benefits. One small study of subjects who showed signs of memory problems found that, over a 2- to 4-year period, people with lower blood levels of caffeine were more likely to develop dementia than those with higher levels.
4. Coffee might protect your ticker
Coffee may also help protect your heart. For decades, patients with abnormal heart rhythms (which can increase the risk for sudden cardiac arrest and stroke), were advised to avoid caffeine. However, a new meta-analysis published in April 2018 indicates that drinking coffee can actually decrease atrial fibrillation frequency by up to 13 percent.
But that’s not all coffee can do to protect your body’s most vital organ. According to the BMJ review, people who drink coffee are 19 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease and 30 percent less likely to die of stroke than their coffee-abstaining counterparts.
5. Coffee might help you live longer
Most importantly, research shows that people who drink coffee may be less likely to die from all causes. That was the conclusion of a 2016 review in the European Journal of Epidemiology, which found that drinking 4 cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of mortality, including deaths from heart disease and cancer.
We’ll drink to that! ☕