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The Unlikely Health Benefits of Coffee

Coffee has long been perceived as an unhealthy indulgence for those who aren’t “morning people,” but recent research shows that it may play a key role in helping you live a long and healthy life.

When most vegans think of healthy drinks, a rainbow elixir of fruits and veggies may come to mind. While that kale-beet-carrot-spirulina-hemp-flax-almond milk shake you concoct in the comfort of your kitchen will certainly help you keep a clean bill of health, there’s another plant-based beverage that may yield wellness benefits—your morning cup of Joe. Coffee has long been considered a necessary evil for keeping the alarm clock blues at bay, but within the last 10 years, numerous health studies and extensive research has revealed that the bean-borne beverage might just be an unlikely ally in staving off chronic conditions and increasing your chances of living a life of longevity.

Anti-Cancer
Cancer is one of the largest blips on America’s health radar, and for good reason—the American Cancer Society predicted that more than 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with some form of the condition in 2013, while the Centers for Disease Control reports that more than half a million people in the US died from cancer in 2009. These staggering statistics have prompted many Americans to undertake myriad preventative measures such as ditching deadly habits, beefing up their diets by cutting out the beef, or simply slathering on extra sunblock before they hit the beach. But some studies within the past decade show that your morning French press fix may have some serious cancer-defense perks. 

A 2011 study conducted by Harvard researchers on more than 47,000 men found that those who consumed a not-so-moderate six-plus cups of coffee per day reduced the risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer—the second most common form of cancer in the United States—by nearly 20 percent. These findings were supported by research published this year in the journal Cancer Causes and Control, which found that prostate cancer patients who drank at least four cups of coffee per day were half as likely to have their cancer reoccur or progress than those who indulged in the beverage just once per week or less.

And this is just the beginning. Other research suggests that common cancer culprits, including breast, oral, endometrial, and liver cancer, along with the most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma (2.8 million in the US diagnosed annually), may be prevented through a steady java regimen. Some health experts believe that the beverage’s anti-carcinogen powers come from polyphenols—antioxidant’s that have cancer-fighting properties. These compounds can be found, and should be obtained, from your favorite fruits and vegetables as well as the occasional cup of green tea, but the busy schedules and consequently off-balance diets of many Americans may leave them lacking...until they get their morning mug. A 2005 study by University of Scranton researchers revealed that the percolated libation was the main source of antioxidants among the US population. “Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source,” said the study author, Joe Vinson. “Nothing else comes close.” 

Whole Body Experience
The coffee-induced caffeine rush you experience may be short-lived, but the ubiquitous beverage may have lingering effects that ward off a plethora of prevalent ailments besides cancer, notably type 2 diabetes. Diagnosed in this country in pandemic proportions, more than 23 million people in the US are type 2 diabetic while an additional 79 million are prediabetic, the CDC reports. Research conducted by the European Science Foundation shows that moderate java consumption may be an effective way cut down the risk of developing type-2 diabetes by up to 25 percent, while another study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry revealed similar diabetic-defense properties.

Stroke incidence has also been shown to be lower among coffee consumers—the results of a study published in 2011 in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association showed that women who drank at least one cup of coffee per day were 20 to 25 percent less likely to have a stroke than women who drank less than that, while findings from research published in the same journal this year, which analyzed the dietary habits of 83,269 Japanese adults, also demonstrated coffee’s propensity to dramatically decrease stroke incidence. 

Use Your Head
It’s no secret among academics that coffee makes a great a study buddy. Not only does it help pupils get through those long-haul essay-penning and exam-prepping sessions, it has been shown to improve short-term memory as well. But coffee may also yield long-term cognitive benefits, specifically through its ability to stave off mental conditions that usually affect people in late adulthood. A 2012 study administered by the University of South Florida College of Pharmacy, which analyzed levels of caffeine in patients’ blood over a two-to-four year period, revealed that those who had blood-caffeine levels equivalent to three cups of coffee were significantly less likely to have their dementia progress than those who had low levels of the stimulant in their system. Other studies, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, American Journal of Epidemiology, and the journal Neurology, all showed that coffee may not only help prevent Parkinson’s disease, but has the potential to alleviate its symptoms in those who have already developed it.

Due to constant research and intuitive studies, society’s perception of what is healthy and what is not is constantly in flux. Vegetarians know this better than anyone—it has not been until recently that mainstream medical sources and the general public have stopped demonizing the diet and begun to endorse its innumerable wellness benefits. Recent bouts of research and educated evidence may indicate that coffee is also crossing the fuzzy line that separates foods that are perceived as healthy and unhealthy. But like everything we consume—from coconut milk ice cream to kale—it’s imperative to look at all the research in regards to what we put in our body and to keep in mind that moderation is key.

Want to bring your morning cup of Joe to the next level? Check out VegNews' eight favorite java-centric recipes

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