Peter McCarthy
Coffeemaker: Health Food Dispenser?
Coffeemaker: Health Food Dispenser?
© David Stone for Roosevelt Island Daily

My father started and ended every day the same way – with a cup of coffee. Although my brothers, sister and I picked up his habit, none of us imagined he was happily consuming a health food. Neither, I'm sure, did he.

Starbucks may change it's ad campaign.

Who guessed that consuming coffee would evolve, in the short lifespan of Seattle's beverage giant, from health risk to association with numerous health benefits, including reduced cancer risk? 

I'd like to claim that I did, but no, my avid coffee consumption was aimed at nothing more elevated than staying more awake longer than my competitors.

Estimates are that 130 million Americans drink coffee every day, and there were times during my sales career when I believed most of them were in the Starbucks line ahead of me.

A new report from the World Health Organization is good news for every wide awake one of us.

Removing the Bigger "C" from Coffee

In a case of guilty until proven innocent, WHO condemned coffee as "possibly carcinogenic" in 1991, based on weak links to bladder cancer. Since then, a steady stream of studies found positive statistical relationships between coffee drinking and heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Only a quarter century after its first report, WHO decided to look again.

How many times were we lectured about how bad drinking coffee was in those years? Should we expect apologies? 

No, probably not.

But when WHO got around to setting up a working group of 23 scientists to look at hundreds of studies, they had no choice but to make a retraction. And then some.

"After thoroughly reviewing more than 1000 studies in humans and animals, the Working Group found that there was inadequate evidence for the carcinogenicity of coffee drinking overall," the report said.

Translation: coffee doesn't cause cancer.

Reluctantly, it continued, "Many epidemiological studies showed that coffee drinking had no carcinogenic effects for cancers of the pancreas, female breast, and prostate, and reduced risks were seen for cancers of the liver and uterine endometrium. (Emphasis mine.)

As far as I'm concerned, they saved the best for last: Coffee is clearly associated with a reduced risk for some cancers.

As quoted in the New York TimesGeoffrey Kabat, a cancer epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, said, “What the evidence shows over all is that coffee drinking is associated with either reduced risk of several cancers or certainly no clear increase in other cancers. There’s a strong signal that this is probably not something that we need to be worrying about.”

No one is sure why coffee has a positive effect on numerous human functions, but as far as cancer reduction goes, it's antioxidant affect has long been recognized. Antioxidants are also suspected as responsible for similar healthful affects seen in red wine drinkers.

Which makes me think I need to do some wine research. Have our vices actually been benefits, all this time?

Check back for future developments.