Recent studies suggest even moderate consumption of coffee – one to four cups a day – may reduce the odds of colon cancer developing or recurring.
The data showed one to two servings of coffee a day associated with a 26 percent reduction in the odds of developing colon cancer. The risk decreased as much as 50 percent when participants drank more than 2.5 servings each day. The lower risk was seen across all types of coffee, both caffeinated and decaffeinated.
"I think this is all speculation," said Dr. Kavitha Donthireddy. She's an oncologist at Parkland Hospital and an assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. "They need to do a lot more research and come up with a reason. But I think if this is something that will pan out, that will be a great thing, because coffee makes you feel good.”
Donthireddy enjoys coffee. She wouldn’t recommend it specifically to fight colon cancer, but if any of her patients expressed concerns about drinking coffee, she’d say it's fine, and maybe even beneficial.
Just don't exceed four servings a day, Donthireddy says, or else face an additional set of problems.
About the studies: What they were looking at were patients who were diagnosed with early stage colon cancer, Stage 1, 2 and 3. Patients with Stage 3 have a higher risk of the cancer coming back. The standard treatment for Stage 3 colon cancer is about six months of chemotherapy, but chemotherapy by itself is not a guarantee. So what they looked at was what factors play a role: calcium and vitamin D levels, diet high in fiber, fruits and vegetables and physical exercise. They questioned all groups of patients during and six months after chemotherapy about all these things, including coffee consumption.
About why coffee makes a difference: Scientists have not come up with a particular explanation, but one thing mentioned was insulin resistance pathways. It somehow helps with tighter glucose control. The other is that coffee may be inducing detoxifying enzymes. And acting as antioxidant, it was decreasing the incidence of the cancer coming back. Also, they were postulating that chlorogenic acid that was found in coffee in the caffeine may actually upregulate tumor suppressor genes, which protect a body against cancer developing and also help with DNA repair.
On suggesting coffee to patients: I would not say, "Go drink coffee," but if patients worry coffee might hurt them, I would reassure them evidence to show it's OK to drink two to four cups of coffee. If you go beyond that, then you will have other problems like tremors, insomnia, restlessness, withdrawal headache and dependence.
Steps to try and keep colon cancer at bay:
- If overweight, target a BMI of 27 or under.
- Physical exercise, about three to four times a week, with at least 30 to 45 minutes of a combination of cardio and other forms of exercise incorporated.
- Supplement vitamin D, if levels are low.
- Diet rich in fruit and vegetables.