Coffee may offer protection against skin cancer

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A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows coffee might help protect against melanoma, which is the leading cause of skin cancer death in the United States.


The researchers gathered data from a study run by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and AARP. A food questionnaire was sent to 3.5 million AARP members living in six states: California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania; as well as two cities, Atlanta, Ga., and Detroit, Mich. The questionnaire yielded coffee drinking info for 447,357 Caucasian seniors in 1995 and 1996, and researchers followed up with the participants for about 10 years on average. All participants were cancer-free when they filled out the questionnaire, and the researchers adjusted for other factors that could influence melanoma risk, such as ultraviolet radiation exposure, body mass index, age, sex, physical activity, alcohol intake, and smoking history.

The researchers found that people who drank the most coffee every day enjoyed a lower risk of melanoma, compared with those who drank little to no coffee. People who drank one to three cups a day had about a 10% decreased risk of melanoma compared with those who drank none at all, while those who drank four or more cups had a 20% decreased risk.

The decreased risk was only found in people who drank caffeinated coffee. Previous studies have indicated that caffeine could protect skin cells against ultraviolet-B radiation. However, most of the people in the study drank caffeinated coffee, which made it difficult to fully analyze the health benefits of decaf. There could be other compounds in coffee besides caffeine that also protect against skin cancer, including antioxidants.

It should be noted that the study only uncovered an association between coffee consumption and melanoma risk; it didn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship.