WEDNESDAY, Oct. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have discovered that coffee and tea might do more than boost your energy levels: Regular consumption of the world's two most popular beverages may also shield you against a form of brain cancer.
In fact, the latest research suggests that those who drink as little as a half cup or so of coffee per day may lower brain cancer risk by as much as 34 percent.
Lead researcher Dominique S. Michaud, of Brown University's department of community health in Providence, heads an international team that reports the finding in the November issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The notion that coffee and tea might accrue an anti-cancer health benefit to regular drinkers builds on previous research that has indicated that the beverages may also lower the risk for both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
The current effort explored the possibility that coffee and tea may also protect against brain cancer, specifically in the form of glioma, a cancer of the central nervous system that originates in the brain and/or spinal cord.
Data concerning the dietary habits of more than 410,000 men and women between the ages of 25 and 70 was drawn from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study, which included participants from France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Greece, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany.
Participants were recruited between 1991 and 2000, and were tracked over the course of about 8.5 years. During that time, food surveys were completed to gauge, among other things, the amount of tea and coffee each participant consumed.
During the study, 343 new cases of glioma were diagnosed, as were 245 new cases of meningioma, another cancer that affects tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
Decaffeinated coffee consumption was found to be very low overall, while regular coffee and tea drinking patterns varied greatly from country to country. For example, while the Danish (the biggest consumers of coffee) drank on average nearly 3.5 cups per day, Italians (the lowest consumers) averaged less than a half-cup daily. Tea consumption was highest in Great Britain, and lowest in Spain.
By stacking drinking patterns against brain cancer incidence, the research team found that drinking 100 mL (or 0.4 cups) per day and above lowered the risk of gliomas by 34 percent.
The protective effect appears to be slightly stronger among men, the authors observed, and seems to apply solely to gliomas.
Dr. Jonathan Friedman, director of the Texas Brain and Spine Institute at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Bryan, described the findings as "surprising."
"However, the mechanism by which coffee is protective is completely unknown," he cautioned. "While the caffeine itself might be important, some of the other common components of coffee or tea might also be relevant, such as natural antioxidants," he noted.
"Additional studies will be required to confirm these findings," he stressed, "and to identify the basis for the correlation."
Dr. John S. Yu, director of the Brain Tumor Center of Excellence at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said the finding was "striking."
"If we had a drug for any disease that could demonstrate a risk reduction of 34 percent, that would be considered a great drug. That degree of risk reduction is very strong," he said.
"And as for the specific protective impact of caffeine, this finding follows other recent research that demonstrated that coffee drinking is associated with a lower risk for breast cancer as well," Yu noted. "But even taken together, it has not yet been established whether or not this is directly causative -- [in other words, whether] drinking caffeine directly reduces disease risk -- or whether this is actually about an association between other factors concerning the type of people who drink a certain amount of coffee and risk reduction. More research is needed to figure that out."
For more on brain cancer, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: John S. Yu, M.D., director, Brain Tumor Center of Excellence, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles; Jonathan Friedman, M.D., associate professor, surgery, neuroscience and experimental therapeutics, and director, Texas Brain and Spine Institute, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, Bryan, Texas; November 2010, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
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