Men who enjoy coffee now have reason to say “che meraviglio!” or “how wonderful!” A new study by a multi-institutional group of Italian researchers found that men who savor more than 3 cups of Italian-style coffee daily had a 53% lower chance of developing prostate cancer (PCa). While that may strike the faint of heart as a lot of caffeine per day, it appears that the stimulant in coffee has an anti-cancer effect, verified by additional lab tests on two different PCa cell lines.
The study by Pounis et al. was published in the April 24, 2017 issue of the International Journal of Cancer.[i] Some features of the study worth noting are:
- Almost 7000 men participating in a prospective, randomized health study in the Molise region in Italy were followed for an average of about 4 years. As part of the study, their nutrition and Italian-style coffee consumption were tracked using questionnaires.
- 100 new cases of PCa were diagnosed during the course of the study.
- In addition to the population analysis showing the risk reduction between the highest coffee drinkers vs. the lowest (who developed the most PCa cases), the research team used laboratory tests of increasing concentrations of caffeine on two human PCa cell lines, PC-3 and DU145.
- Italian-style coffee differs from most U.S. coffee preparation in that it “incorporates high pressure, very hot water temperatures, and no filters to separate coffee grounds.”[ii] However, it was not known if the preparation method had any bearing on controlling PCa risk – it’s just the form of coffee consumed in that region.
The team reported that “Caffeine appeared to exert both antiproliferative and antimetastatic activity on two prostate cancer cell lines, thus providing a cellular confirmation for the cohort study results.” In other words, not only did the questionnaire responses indicate that high coffee intake lowered the chances of prostate cancer, but the experiments in the lab validated that the actual cells had less ability to multiply and spread when exposed to caffeine.
It has been known for many years that coffee appears to offer protection against prostate cancer. For example, six years ago the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published the results of a very large-scale study (47,911 men) showing that over a 20-year period, U.S. men who drank 6 or more cups of cups of coffee daily (not necessarily Italian-style) had a 20% less chance of developing PCa – and a 60% less risk of developing a lethal form of the disease than those who drank no coffee. According to that study, it did not matter if the coffee was “leaded” or “unleaded.”[iii]
Earlier studies have demonstrated coffee’s broader health contributions beyond prostate cancer, regardless of whether the coffee is decaf or caffeinated. Coffee contains powerful antioxidants, and has anti-inflammatory properties. It has been observed to have positive benefits for patients who suffer from maladies ranging from cardiovascular disease and diabetes, to cirrhosis of the liver.[iv]
Before you decide to buy a plane ticket to Rome and start downing a lot of espresso, it’s important to remember that there is a down side to heavy caffeine intake, especially if you have a history of conditions such as high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, indigestion or heart arrhythmias (irregular or rapid heartbeat). How much caffeine is too much? That depends on your age, weight and overall health, among other factors. As with most things in life, knowing yourself and proceeding with moderation is always sound advice. Always consult with your doctor before you make significant nutrition changes.
When it comes to Italian-style coffee, the Pounis study offers clues for future research, which is clearly needed before anything definitive can be said. For now, it’s nice to think that a good cup of coffee – an enjoyable part of daily life for millions of men around the world – may also be enhancing prostate health.
[i] Pounis G, Tabolacci C, Costanzo S, Cordella M et al. Reduction by coffee consumption of prostate cancer risk: evidence from the Moli-sani cohort and cellular models Int J Cancer. 2017 Apr 24. doi: 10.1002/ijc.30720. [Epub ahead of print]
[iii] Rabin, Roni Caryn. “Less Prostate Cancer in Coffee Devotees.” The New York Times, May 20, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/24/health/research/24prevention.html
[iv] Bakalar, Nicholas. “Coffee as a Health Drink? Studies Find Some Benefits.” The New York Times, Aug. 15, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/15/health/nutrition/15coff.html