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Four cups of coffee a day 'halves' mouth cancer risk

“Drinking coffee halves the risk of mouth cancer – even in smokers and drinkers,” claims the Daily Mail.

This story is based on a large US study that found that adults who reported drinking more than four cups of caffeinated coffee a day had a 49% lower relative risk of dying from mouth and throat cancer than those who reported drinking no or occasional caffeinated coffee.

The risk reduction was independent of well-established risk factors for these types of cancer, such as smoking and alcohol intake. Sadly, for tea lovers, a similar risk reduction was not seen for the nation’s favourite beverage.

But before you start thinking that a full Starbucks or Costa loyalty card will allow you to smoke and drink with impunity, it is important to stress a number of points:

  • The risk of developing or dying from other types of cancer was not assessed in this study, nor was the risk of alcohol-related diseases such as liver failure. Smoking and excess alcohol consumption are well-known to cause premature death from a variety of diseases.
  • The study participants were predominantly white, middle aged or elderly and well-educated. Therefore, results may not be consistent in other groups.

Taking into account these limitations, this is an interesting piece of research that raises the possibility that coffee may contain biologically active compounds that have a protective effect against some forms of cancer. But a great deal of further research is required into the exact mechanisms of coffee’s protective effects, if they exist.

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