Coffee & Cancer: Java to the Rescue?

Some research can’t help but be greeted with a yawn, “duh!” or rolling eyes – like the obesity study done a couple years ago at Tel Aviv University. Participants sat around doing nothing more than eating, playing games and reading. The conclusion? Relaxing can make you fatter. (There’s actually a rationale for such “duh” studies, which you can read about here.)

coffee_greenAt the other end of the spectrum are studies that surprise, such as the one on oral and throat cancer published last month in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Analyzing data from a 26 year span of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II, researchers found that people who drank four cups of caffeinated coffee a day were at a 49% lower risk of death from throat or oral cancer as those who occasionally or never take coffee. (Full research article here)

This isn’t to say coffee is a magic bullet against these cancers. Far better to start by eliminating risk factors such as tobacco and heavy alcohol use, a poor, sugar-rich diet and unsafe sexual practices. (As mentioned, the virus responsible for the recent rise in oral cancer rates – HPV – is most often sexually transmitted.)

Yes, moderation and healthy living may sound less adventurous than whiling away the bohemian hours at your favorite hip coffee shop, but they’re your health’s most reliable friend.

Because oral and throat cancers can be hard to see in their early – and thus, easiest to successfully treat phase – it’s also important to see your dentist regularly for screening. Here in Dr. Erwin’s office, all adult patients are screened annually with VELscope. This device uses a blue excitation light to identify tissues that need a closer look. If any are found, we go to the next step: a CDX brush test, which is likewise painless and non-invasive.

Oral Cancer Screening at a Glance

And then there’s coffee – perhaps – with its beneficial effects. The current belief is that these come courtesy of phytochemicals. These are naturally occurring compounds in plants that often have antioxidant properties, and a number of those found in coffee may contribute in the fight against cancer.

Now the bad news: Coffee is also one of the top causes for tooth enamel damage. Not only does it stain, but it makes the oral cavity temporarily more acidic, giving a boost to some of the bacteria that want nothing more than to leave you in dentures. If you do drink coffee, be sure to wait 20 to 30 minutes before brushing your teeth afterwards. This gives your saliva time to neutralize those acids. Brushing while conditions are still acidic further raises risk of enamel erosion.

Stains, we can remove. Once enamel’s gone, it’s gone.

Learn more about oral and throat cancers

Image byTakkk, via Wikimedia Commons


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