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If you're a man of a certain age and you're having your morning cup of coffee -yeah, I'm talking to you - you might want to have a second cup after you hear this. Harvard researchers have found that coffee lowers the risk of developing the deadliest kind of prostate cancer. The more you drink the lower the risk. And NPR's Richard Knox reports that coffee's health benefits may not be limited to prostate cancer or to men.
RICHARD KNOX: Scientists have been interested in the possible health benefits of coffee for a long time, partly because it contains a lot of anti-oxidants. Previous studies were small and the results have been mixed. Researcher Lorelei Mucci says the new study involved almost 50,000 male health professionals. More than 600 of them got the most lethal form of prostate cancer.
Dr. LORELEI MUCCI (Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health): the men who drank the most coffee, their risk of getting this bad form of prostate cancer was about 60 percent lower compared to the men who drank almost no coffee.
KNOX: Did you say, wow, that's a lot?
Dr. MUCCI: We did say, wow, that's a lot. Among risk factors that people have studied for lethal prostate cancer, this is one of the strongest.
KNOX: Now, to lower their risk of prostate cancer by 60 percent men needed to drink a lot of coffee, six cups a day or more. But men who drank three cups a day had a 30 percent lower chance of getting an aggressive prostate cancer. And that's not bad either.
Only about 10 percent of prostate cancers are deadly. Most men get a less dangerous and curable kind. Mucci, who's at the Harvard School of Public Health, says men got the benefit even without getting buzzed on caffeine.
Dr. MUCCI: Whether they drank regular coffee or only decaffeinated coffee there was this same lower risk of lethal prostate cancer. It's really the coffee, it's not the caffeine.
KNOX: Another good thing, men don't have to be lifelong coffee drinkers to get the benefit. What mattered was how much they drank in the previous eight years. Mucci says the coffee effect persisted even after the researchers allowed for the effect of exercise. They'd previously shown that exercise, as little as two or three brisk walks a week, lowered men's risk of dying from prostate cancer by almost half.
Dr. Neil Martin is a Boston cancer specialist who wasn't involved in the study but likes the findings.
Dr. NEIL MARTIN (Radiation Oncologist): Results like these are very appealing for people. It supports things that they do. And they like the idea of I'm already a coffee drinker and so I'm going to drink more and that's going to be somehow healthful for me. And I guess I don't really see the downside with that. I think people should feel empowered about being able to change their risk of diseases.
KNOX: And yes, it's diseases - plural. Earlier research suggests coffee reduces the risk of diabetes, liver disease, gallstones and Parkinson's disease, possibly because it reduces insulin and prevents damage from oxidation.
And just last week, Swedish researchers reported that women who drink at least five cups of coffee a day have significantly lower risk of developing the most aggressive form of breast cancer.
Mucci says more research should be done before officially urging people to drink coffee for their health. But meanwhile...
Dr. MUCCI: I think there's no reason not to start drinking coffee.
KNOX: And you're not paid by the coffee people?
Dr. MUCCI: And I'm not paid by the coffee people, no.
KNOX: The coffee and prostate study appears in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Richard Knox, NPR News, Boston.