Drink coffee to slash your risk of cancer?

It's time to stop feeling guilty about your coffee habit. A new study out of Harvard Medical School in Boston has revealed that the brewed beverage can help reduce your risk of endometrial cancer.

Endometrial cancer, also known as uterine cancer, affects the endometrium, which is the lining of the uterus.

According to the National Cancer Institute, Singapore, endometrial cancer is the most common gynaecological cancer among women in the country, and its incidence is on the rise.

The most common signs of endometrial cancer include abnormal (that is, frequent or continuous) bleeding or spotting throughout the month; spotting or bleeding after not having any menstrual bleeding for 12 months or more; abnormal, watery or blood-tinged vaginal discharge; difficult or painful urination; pain while having sexual intercourse; and pain in the pelvic area.

Endometrial cancer is typically diagnosed in women who are aged in their 50s and 60s, however cancerous changes usually start to take place in a woman's uterus from her late 40s.

Like many other types of cancer, endometrial cancer responds well to treatment if detected early.

The National Cancer Institute, Singapore says that women who are most at risk of developing endometrial cancer include the obese, those with high blood pressure, those who have experienced more years of menstruation (they started their menses early or experienced menopause late), those who have never been pregnant, elderly women, and those undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

Study: coffee lowers your risk of endometrial cancer

A healthy lifestyle is key to reducing your chances of developing endometrial cancer. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, getting adequate daily physical exercise, and getting certain conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure under control.

Pregnancy, and taking oral contraceptive pills, are also said to have protective effects against the disease. And, if a new study is to be believed, we can now add "drinking coffee" to the list.

The study revealed that women who drank at least two cups of coffee a day have a seven per cent lower risk of developing endometrial cancer, compared to non-coffee drinkers.

The study also found that caffeinated coffee was more associated with a decreased risk than decaffeinated coffee.

The research focused on data from 19 previous studies that included 40,000 women in all - 12,000 of whom had endometrial cancer.

Marta Crous-Bou, a research fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston and the lead author on the study, also revealed that coffee's protective effects only extended to women who were overweight or obese.

Women who were of a normal weight did not appear to benefit from drinking the beverage - this is crucial, since obesity is a high risk factor for endometrial cancer.

Coffee: the nutritious beverage you didn't know about

Coffee is trendy these days, but there was a time when it was thought to be bad for our health. In people who are sensitive to caffeine, coffee has been shown to cause heart palpitations.

Many health experts have also demonised coffee for increasing our risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and osteoporosis, although these negative effects have yet to be proven.

In her research, Crous-Bou said that coffee's protective effects might be due to the compounds that decrease levels of oestrogen and insulin.

Both oestrogen and insulin have been shown to play a role in the development of endometrial cancer.

Interestingly, these hormones are affected by the amount of fat a woman has in her body. A high amount of fat tissue can increase a woman's oestrogen levels, which in turn ups her risk of endometrial cancer.

Coffee may help fight cancer in other ways, too. A 2015 study carried out by researchers at Monash University in Melbourne found that, under certain conditions during the brewing process, coffee acts as an antioxidant.

Antioxidants are chemicals that fight free radicals, elements that damage the body and weaken the immune system. These findings were published in the scientific journal, Plos One.

While you no longer have to feel guilty about your coffee habit, it's important to remember that, when it comes to slashing your risk of endometrial cancer, drinking coffee is no substitute for maintaining a healthy weight, doing regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, reducing your alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking.

Tips for coffee lovers

If you want to include coffee as part of an anti-cancer diet, here are some great tips to follow:

Choose organic: Coffee beans tend to be sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and other toxins.

So go for a quality, organic brand if you can find it, and especially if you drink more than a couple of cups a day.

Opt for a light roast: The lighter the roast, the more antioxidants the coffee contains.

Lightly roasting green coffee beans has been shown to activate their antioxidant compounds, but too much roasting (which is done to create a strong or bold blend) breaks down these antioxidants.

At coffee joints like Starbucks, a light roast is typically called a "blonde".

Store your beans properly: If you grind your own beans at home, be sure to store them in an airtight container. And don't grind them until you're ready to brew your cuppa.

The longer roasted coffee beans are exposed to air, the more likely they are to lose their precious, cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Drink fresh coffee: Supermarket shelves are filled with all kinds of packaged coffee drinks.

It's tempting to grab a can of chilled cafe latte or espresso when you're in a hurry, but you're better off brewing or buying a fresh cup.

Enjoy your coffee plain: Sugar and artificial sweeteners make the drink less healthy.

If you can't stand the bitterness, add a little stevia, which is a natural, plant-derived sweetener, or even a sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg or unsweetened cocoa powder.

Black coffee is the healthiest, but if you must have yours with milk, add just a splash. Avoid non-dairy creamers, as these contain unhealthy fats and other harmful additives.

Stay away from three-in-one packet mixes, too.

Going to the cafe? Don't buy fancy coffee drinks: If it contains whipped cream, ice cream, chocolate sprinkles and other flavoured additions, you might as well not bother.

You'll only be consuming more fat and sugar, which defeats the purpose of drinking coffee in the first place.

Savour your cuppa: If you're worried about the effects of caffeine on your system, avoid gulping your drink down too quickly.

Instead, take your time to savour its aroma and flavour. If you turn coffee drinking into a ritual, you'll enjoy the beverage a lot more and not feel so jittery after finishing the cup.

Don't drink coffee after 3pm: Coffee doesn't help you unwind; it keeps you alert and focused, which is why many of us can't start the day without a cup.

To prevent the caffeine from keeping you awake at night or disrupting your sleep, have your last cup of the day no later than 3pm (or four to seven hours before going to bed).

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