Thursday, May 12, 2011

Could five cups of coffee a day protect against breast cancer?

The pattern of conflicting findings in this field suggests that we are looking at random effects. This is to be expected in studies of coffee. Such studies are very frequent. And where studies are very frequent, we can expect that some positive findings will emerge by chance alone

Women who drink coffee could be protecting themselves against an aggressive form of breast cancer, research suggests. Those who regularly enjoy the hot drink are far less likely to develop oestrogen-receptor negative breast cancer – particularly if they drink five cups or more a day.

These types of tumours do not react to a wide range of drugs, meaning chemotherapy is often the only option.

In the study, experts from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found coffee drinkers had a lower incidence of breast cancer than women who rarely drank the beverage.

They analysed data from almost 6,000 women who were past the menopause. Those women who drank five or more cups a day had a 57 per cent reduced risk of breast cancer compared with those who drank less than one cup a day.

Writing in the journal Breast Cancer Research, the scientists concluded: ‘A high daily intake of coffee was found to be associated with a statistically significant decrease in oestrogen-receptor negative breast cancer among post-menopausal women.’

The authors also found a small reduced risk for all types of breast cancer, although this link was not significant when factors such as age and weight were taken into account. Previous studies have suggested coffee cuts the risk of other cancers, including those targeting the prostate and liver.

However, experts are divided on the benefits of coffee and some studies have shown it could even promote cancer. Research has suggested coffee may in fact cause cells to proliferate or prevent them from being repaired.

The Karolinska Institute experts said they suspected coffee could contain compounds that affect different types of breast cancer in different ways. It is possible that the drink fuels oestrogen-receptor positive breast cancers but reduces the risk of oestrogen-receptor negative breast cancer, they said. This would match the finding that drinking coffee could reduce the risk of breast cancer overall, although the experts said further studies were needed.


Taking a nap

The afternoon nap, or siesta, is woven into human history. Almost every culture and climate has its own tradition of this healthful practice. Only recently has it gone out of favor for anyone except young children and the elderly, but once it was common all over the world at almost any age.

Sadly, in far too many cases, our hectic lifestyles even rob the children of their necessary and healthful naps. Between overstimulation - on so many fronts - to serious emotional trauma and family instability, children are increasingly faced with troubled lives; no time or place for peace, security and a quiet nap. Symptoms include ongoing irritability, increased conflict with peers and adults, poor eating and elimination, nightmares and refusal to go to bed at all. Eventually, they do fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion, but they are highly unlikely to get the deep and peaceful sleep they need in that case.

There seems to be some controversy about naps for the elderly, but centuries of common practice would seem to indicate that most people would not have any problems, let alone danger from taking a nap. As a nurse, visiting mostly elderly people in every sort of environment, I saw very little in the way of problems that could even remotely be connected to napping. Just as with children, a late nap might well result in a late bedtime and become a problem to the caregivers, but that is not the same thing at all.

The National Sleep Foundation has some interesting information on the subject:

"As a nation, the United States appears to be becoming more and more sleep deprived. And it may be our busy lifestyle that keeps us from napping. While naps do not necessarily make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance."

I suffered from serious sleep deprivation for many years, partly due to pain issues, and partly due to irregular scheduling from shift and "on call" work. Medications of all kinds were tried and failed, and naps were simply not an option most of the time, but even a brief nap - when pain could be controlled - was a blessing and relief.

Serious sleep problems may need other solutions. It might be as simple as learning relaxation techniques, making some needed changes in your sleep environment,or dealing with family or financial problems in a meaningful way. Only you know what produces the stress in your life, but refusing to seek real solutions might just be leaving you sleep deprived. And choosing not to deal with it is still making a choice. Why not choose health?


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