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Answers from Donald Hensrud, M.D.
Coffee has been around for a long time and blamed for many ills — from stunting your growth to causing heart disease — but newer research shows that it may actually have health benefits.
Recent studies have generally found no connection between coffee and an increased risk of heart disease or cancer.
In fact, some studies have found an association between coffee consumption and decreased overall mortality and possibly cardiovascular mortality, although this may not be true in younger people who drink large amounts of coffee.
Why the apparent reversal in the thinking about coffee? Earlier studies didn't always take into account that known high-risk behaviors, such as smoking and physical inactivity, tended to be more common among heavy coffee drinkers.
Studies have shown that coffee may have health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer. Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression.
However, the research appears to bear out some risks. High consumption of unfiltered coffee (boiled or espresso) has been associated with mild elevations in cholesterol levels.
In addition, some studies found that two or more cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of heart disease in people with a specific — and fairly common — genetic mutation that slows the breakdown of caffeine in the body. So, how quickly you metabolize coffee may affect your health risk.
Although coffee may have fewer risks compared with benefits, keep in mind that other beverages, such as milk and some fruit juices, contain nutrients that coffee doesn't. Also, adding cream and sugar to your coffee adds fat and calories — up to hundreds of calories in some cases.
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