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Coffee protects women from cancer of the uterus lining (endometrial cancer)
Drink at least four cups a day
PhD student finds coffee protects women
If you are a woman and love coffee, you will be pleased to hear that your coffee habit decreases your risk of endometrial cancer, the most frequent cancer of the uterus (womb). The risk can drop by as much as 25%.
This discovery was made by Youjin Je, a postgraduate student, as part of the PhD studies he conducted under the supervision of Edward Giovannucci at the Harvard School of Public Health. He analyzed a huge amount of data and was able to confirm that coffee really does protect women from endometrial cancer.
Moderate consumption cuts cancer risk by 25%
Scientists had already known from their previous research that endometrial tends to affect women with high levels of estrogen and insulin in their blood. Estrogen is particularly important in this context, because it stimulates growth and division of the cells which form the lining of the uterus (endometrium). Experiments have proved that coffee decreases the levels of both these substances in the blood. Some studies on the population had already suggested that coffee might be helpful in this situation, but no definitive evidence had been obtained.
Youjin Je's PhD task was to analyze data from the Nurses’ Health Study. This study project was originally started at Harvard in 1976. The researchers involved send questionnaires at regular intervals to a huge group of female registered nurses asking for information about their health.
Summary of the results
Number of cups/day
Reduction in risk
4 or more
Decaffeinated beverages are slightly less effective
This slight decrease could just have been due to random coincidence
Data from more than 65,000 women
Youjin Je looked at answers to a food questionnaire which was returned in 1980 by 67,470 nurses aged between 34 and 59 years. Over the next 26 years (until 2006), 672 of these women received a diagnosis of endometrial cancer.
After taking all other possible factors into account, Youjin Je found that women who said they regularly had four or more cups of coffee a day were 25% less likely to get the disease than those who said they had less than one cup per day.
This means that for a group of 100,000 women who drink more than four cups of coffee daily, it can be predicted that there will be 35 cases of the disease, compared to a prediction of 56 cases in a group of 100,000 women who drink less than one cup.
Drinking two or three cups each day was possibly associated with a slightly reduced risk of 7%. However, this result was not “statistically significant”, which means it could just as easily have been due to random coincidence.
The risk was decreased a bit more by coffee with caffeine was taken into account, and a bit less by decaffeinated brands. Although tea also contains some caffeine, it was not found to have any effect whatsoever in this study. Therefore it is not the caffeine itself that has this protective effect, but the method used to remove it seems to have some effect on whatever substance are important for protection.
Careful what you add!
Obese women get highest protection
The risk of endometrial cancer is greatly increased in obese women. Thus it is not surprising that these women gained the most benefit from the protective effect of coffee.This was explained by the researchers as probably being due to the fact that obese women have higher blood levels of insulin and estrogen. These are the specific risk factors for endometrial cancer that are decreased by drinking coffee.
In addition, by combating high levels of insulin and estrogen, coffee will have beneficial effects against health conditions that are associated with obesity, such as diabetes.
The fact that coffee protects against endometrial cancer is a further addition to the increasing body of evidence for the health benefits of drinking coffee. Female coffee lovers will no doubt be delighted that this cancer research information provides further encouragement for them to delight in their favorite beverage. However, before you celebrate the fact with a coffee, remember that, as pointed out by the researchers, adding excessive cream and/or sugar to coffee could well negate its potential benefits to your health.
Youjin Je, et al.
A Prospective Cohort Study of Coffee Consumption and Risk of Endometrial Cancer over a 26-Year Follow-Up
published in: Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention; vol. 20(no.12); pages 1–9, November 2011
Coffee is good for you in more ways than one
Coffee has been vilified for years by some members of the medical profession and by seemingly the vast majority of alternative health practitioners and nutrition gurus. They are now faced with having to do an about turn on this topic.
Evidence from scientific studies is pouring in about the health benefits of coffee. This is just one example. It appears that the protection obtained extends to other types of cancer, as well as to other diseases and conditions, such as diabetes and alcohol-induced liver damage. I hope to cover some of these other topics in future articles.
A question for female readers
Would you increase your coffee consumption on the basis of this information?
Endometrial cancer under the microscope
Endometrial cancer: the facts
- The disease begins in the cells lining the inside of the womb.
- It mainly affects older women from the age of 50, most frequently those aged between 60 and 70.
- It is one of the most common cancers found in women, particularly in North America and Central and Eastern Europe.
- US National Cancer Institute estimates more than 45,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and more than 8000 deaths are caused each year by the disease.
- Factors increasing the risk include:
- early start to menstruation (before the age of 12);
- menopause after the age of 50;
- uterine polyps;
- estrogen treatment if progesterone is not given at the same time;
- infertility or never having been pregnant.
- Symptoms include:
- unusual bleeding or discharge, especially if these occur after menopause;
- difficulty and/or pain in passing water;
- pain during physical intimacy;
- pain in the pelvis.
- Provided the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, bones and brain, the cure rate is high.
- Treatment can include surgery, hormones, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, or any combination of two or more of these.