Coffee, Tea, Caffeine and Brain Cancer Risk


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Coffee and tea are widely enjoyed around the world, and both have been the subject of numerous health claims (most of them unproven).  Tea, and green tea in particular, has been the focus of extensive research, with many prior studies suggesting that tea may improve cardiovascular health and, to a much lesser extent, may decrease the risk of some cancers.  Much of the published research regarding coffee has, on the other hand, been focused on trying to disprove purported links between coffee consumption and a potential increase in the risk of some cancers.  (Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of such research has not identified a strong link between moderate coffee consumption and an increased risk of cancer.)


The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study is a huge ongoing prospective multinational public health study, and several of this enormous study’s preliminary results have already been published.  The EPIC study is focused on potential links between diet, nutritional status, lifestyle, and environmental factors and the incidence of cancer (among other chronic diseases). (EPIC is one of the largest studies of diet and health ever undertaken, and has already recruited 520,000 research volunteers in Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.)  Now, a new update from this historic public health study suggests that increased coffee and tea consumption may be associated with a decreased incidence of malignant brain tumors.  This new update from the EPIC study appears in the current issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


Following an average duration of follow-up of nearly 9 years, 588 new cases of brain tumors were diagnosed among the EPIC research volunteers.  Gliomas, the most common and most aggressive type of brain tumors that occur in adults, were found to be 34 percent less common among people who drank at least 100 milliliters (3.4 ounces) of coffee or tea per day.  (Although not statistically significant, this association was also noted to be stronger in men, with a 41 percent lower risk of gliomas in men, as compared to a 26 percent reduction in glioma incidence in women.)


Although it is not clear what causes gliomas of the brain, prior public health studies have at least suggested a link between glioma brain tumors and chronic occupational exposure to high-intensity electrical and magnetic fields, and to rubber and plastics manufacturing.  (As I discuss in A Cancer Prevention Guide for the Human Race, there is also some data linking prolonged cell phone use with an increased incidence of gliomas and other brain tumors.) 


Other smaller public health studies have also identified an apparent link between increased caffeine intake and a decreased incidence of gliomas, and there is laboratory evidence available suggesting that caffeine may reduce the growth of malignant glioma cells growing in culture dishes.  Thus, these new findings from the giant EPIC study further suggest the possibility that coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages might be able to reduce the risk of gliomas of the brain.



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Disclaimer: As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, a professor of surgery, a cancer researcher, an oncology consultant, and a widely published author


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