Q: Chuck, I heard that there's a new large study that links the increase of coffee drinking with premature deaths. Seems to me that sipping Java is given a bad health rap and is much better for us than most know. Which side of the coffee bean do you stand on? -- "Cool for Coffee" in Charleston, S.C.
A: I enjoy a cup of coffee as much as anyone -- but not just for the taste. I, too, believe the nutritional value is being overlooked in many circles, but a word of caution for moderation is also in order.
You're right; a brand-new study published online in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings looked at 43,727 people ages 20 to 87 from 1971 to 2002. It concluded that men younger than 55 who drink more than four cups of coffee a day are 56 percent likelier to die from any cause. And women younger than 55 who drink more than four cups a day are twice as likely to die as other women in that age group.
But does that study on excess discount the health benefits of a cup or two of coffee each day?
In its August edition, the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter ran an excellent article titled "Coffee: Grounds for Optimism." Let me highlight some of its main points.
Coffee used to be regarded as a health hazard, but in recent years, it has joined the ranks of red wine and dark chocolate for its nutritional contributions.
Though the health professionals at UC Berkeley encourage moderation, they concur that coffee does indeed have health benefits. They also noted that "early research linking coffee or caffeine to health problems has almost always been refuted by better studies."
Caffeine is nearly synonymous with coffee, and we all know that in excess, it can cause insomnia, jitters and indigestion issues. But remember that caffeine has a purpose in the plant. It serves as a natural pesticide to ward off its predators. And recent studies have shown its beneficial nature for many of us, too, when it's consumed in moderation.
As a mild psychoactive substance, it "improves reaction time, mental acuity, alertness, and mood; wards off drowsiness; and helps people wake up and feel better in the morning," according to the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. Moreover, it enhances aspects of sport performance and contributes to pain relievers' effects.
The newsletter calls coffee "the No. 1 source of antioxidants in the U.S.," largely because of its colossal consumption.
Nevertheless, its antioxidants are real and many. Among them are polyphenols, which can contribute to the "prevention of cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and osteoporosis and suggests a role in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes mellitus," according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Two other recent studies in that journal linked long-term coffee drinking to a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes.
A 2012 NIH-AARP Diet & Health Study revealed that those who drank at least four cups of coffee daily were 15 percent less likely to develop colon cancer than those who didn't.
Though the overall risk for prostate cancer isn't affected, a 2011 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and a 2012 study in Nutrition Journal found a reduced risk of aggressive prostate cancer in those who consumed coffee.
Two large studies in 2011 linked coffee to a decreased risk of endometrial cancer.
According to a 2011 analysis in Nurses' Health Study, drinking two to three cups of coffee daily reduces the risk of depression by 15 percent.
Two studies in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease in 2011 and 2012 revealed that older women who drank coffee were less likely to experience cognitive decline.
And according to a review paper in Experimental Neurobiology, drinking coffee helps protect against Parkinson's disease.
Though coffee may increase the risk of heart attack for people with multiple cardiovascular problems during the hour or two after drinking coffee, a 2011 Swedish study in the American Journal of Epidemiology discovered that moderate coffee drinking was "associated with a modest reduction in stroke risk."
According to a large study in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2012, people who drank at least two cups of coffee every day (regular or decaf) were 10 to 15 percent less likely to die from diabetes, a stroke, heart disease, respiratory disease, an infection or an accident.
And last week featured news from researchers at the Duke University School of Medicine who found that the caffeine from coffee and tea reduced fat in the livers of people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
Despite coffee's health benefits, however, UC Berkeley's experts are reluctant to encourage people who never have drunk coffee to drink it, largely because the risk factors remain for certain people.
We shouldn't forget that caffeine is a stimulant and, as such, should be avoided by people with certain heart or blood conditions or other health concerns. Your health practitioner should be consulted before you make dietary changes, even changes to your beverage consumption.
Maybe a good word and reminder from Ralph Waldo Emerson is in order: "Moderation in all things, especially moderation."
Chuck Norris' weekly health and fitness column, "C-Force," can be found at creators.com.