Friday, December 30, 2011

Can coffee prevent cancer?

Here we go again! Refreshing to see a bit of humility this time, however (in red)

There's good news on the horizon for coffee lovers, with research suggesting that it can reduce the risk of developing endometrial cancer by up to 25 per cent.

Originating in the lining of the uterus, endometrial cancer is the most common invasive gynaecological cancer in Australia and affects one in 69 women under the age of 75. According to statistics gathered by Cancer Australia, six women were diagnosed with the disease each day in 2010 and it's responsible for an estimated 69 deaths in the country each year.

In the US, where the research was conducted, the National Cancer Institute estimated that more than 46,000 new cases of the cancer would be seen in 2011 and 8000 people would die of the disease.

High levels of oestrogen and insulin are associated with an increased risk of the disease but researchers involved in the Nurses' Health Study from the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health have discovered that high-coffee-consuming women have lower levels of these hormones, compared with those who drink little or no coffee.

"This is an observational study – coffee intake is self-selected, not randomised – so our study cannot prove causal relationship between coffee and endometrial cancer risk, but we found an inverse association between coffee and endometrial cancer risk," reported study author Youjin Je, doctoral student at the Harvard School of Public Health.

"Four or more cups of coffee may contribute to lower risk of endometrial cancer by lowering levels of oestrogen and insulin which are related to endometrial carcinogenesis due to increased cell proliferation and reduced cell death."

To obtain their results researchers followed 67,470 women aged 34 to 59 from 1980 to 2006 and asked that they report every four years how frequently, on average, they consumed coffee over the previous year. They then calculated cumulative average coffee intake to represent long-term consumption patterns for the individual subjects and found that those consuming four cups per day on average were 25 per cent less likely to develop the cancer.

And it's not just the caffeine that helps decrease the risk, with participants who drank two or more cups of decaffeinated coffee per day seeing a 22 per cent decrease. Though Je points out that the data is less stable due to the low incidence of frequent use of decaf coffee and that both the caffeine and coffee itself is thought to work together to produce maximum benefits.

"We found an inverse association with two or more cups of decaf per day, although the link was less robust, and we did not find any association with caffeine containing tea consumption," she said. "Thus, the benefit of coffee is likely linked to several bioactive compounds in coffee that act as antioxidants, reduce inflammation, and regulate insulin. Caffeine also seems to be partly responsible for the risk reduction by increasing oestrogen metabolism."

But before you run down to the coffee cart to order a full-cream double shot with two sugars be warned that a high intake of sugars and fats can counteract the proposed benefits of consumption.

"Based on scientific evidence, substantial amounts of sugar or cream can contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance, which is related to increased risk of endometrial cancer," said Je. "Thus, women who typically added lots of sugar and cream to coffee may not have any benefits from coffee drinking against endometrial cancer."

Though consuming four cups of coffee each day is not advised for pregnant women, those controlling their blood pressure or with a sensitivity to caffeinated beverages, scientists say that it is perfectly safe for the rest of the population.

In addition to the reduced risk of endometrial cancer laboratory testing has found that coffee has strong antioxidant properties that protect cells, protein and DNA against oxidative damage by directly neutralising reactive oxidants or by modulating gene expression contributing to oxidative stress. Which, in layman's terms, means that coffee has the potential to prevent a number of chronic diseases.

Research over the past few years suggests that coffee consumption may protect against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, cirrhosis of the liver, depression in women and other cancers – including aggressive prostate cancer. However, the aforementioned groups who need to monitor or reduce their caffeine intake aren't entirely out of the loop with study authors recommending they drink decaf to get at least some of the benefits of coffee components.

"It's not at the stage where we would recommend women who don't drink coffee to start drinking," said Je. "More large prospective studies should be done to further clarify the role of coffee among different subgroups. But, yes, women consuming coffee should feel reassurance that coffee in general is not a harmful substance, and may even offer some health benefits."


Cut-price test that 'can dramatically boost IVF chances' will be available in 18 months

A cut-price test that could dramatically increase the chances of having a healthy baby through IVF could be available within 18 months.

Oxford University researchers say their test could ‘revolutionise’ the treatment as it is half the price of existing tests and may be just as effective.

It may be cheap enough for use by the Health Service. And, unlike existing tests, it does not involve the potentially risky step of taking a sample of cells from the egg or fledgling embryo, making it safer and more ethically acceptable.

Instead, it works by analysing a ‘cloud’ of cells that nurture and feed the egg. These are normally thrown away in IVF treatment but fertility doctors Dagan Wells and Elpida Fragouli believe they hold important clues to the health of the egg.

Keeping and analysing these cells could help clinics select the best eggs for fertility treatment. It should also spare would-be parents the emotional and financial heartache of going through repeated unsuccessful IVF treatments.

Analysing these ‘cloud’, or cumulous, cells is also likely to be much cheaper at £1,000 or less compared with the £2,000 cost of other techniques, bringing the technology within range of many more couples.

Despite IVF’s reputation as an insurance policy, the treatment works in less than a quarter of cases, and many of the failures are because of problems with the eggs’ chromosomes.

There are already several ways of checking the chromosomes, but they require a small sample from the egg or embryo and so are not completely without risk to the unborn child.
Oxford University researchers say their test could reolutionise the treatment as it is half the price of existing tests and could be just as effective

Oxford University researchers say their test could reolutionise the treatment as it is half the price of existing tests and could be just as effective

The cumulous cells, however, can be studied without harming the egg. These cells grow and mature with the egg and so any problems that damage the egg, such as a poor blood supply, should also show up in the cells.

The doctors have carried out a small-scale study that has shown that certain genes being over or under-active in the cumulous cells is a sign of abnormal eggs.

Calculations suggest that using the technique to pick out the healthiest eggs would boost a woman’s odds of having a baby. Existing tests can double or triple the odds of IVF success, and it is hoped the new test will be just as good.

Dr Wells said: ‘The number of patients we looked at is very small. This is very much a work in progress, but there is good reason for optimism at this point.’

A larger-scale study is planned, and if that goes well the technique could be trialled on women for the first time in the summer of 2012. If it proves to be safe and effective, it could be in widespread use early in 2013.


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