Coffee is officially off the vice list as new studies show health benefits for ailments ranging from cancer to Parkinson's disease
I am not, by nature, a morning person. So ever since the age of 20, I have been a proud member of Coffee Achievers of the World--people whose daily intake of Morning Joe is an essential factor in getting the brain and body kick-started in the morning (or mid-afternoon, or before a college all-nighter). Getting a cup of coffee in the morning is such a high priority for me, in fact, that when I climbed a mountain high in the Himalayan mountains, I took a zip-lock bag of Coffee Singles along with me. I could handle yaks, glaciers, and whatever other discomforts the day had to throw at me, as long as I could start it with a steaming hot cup of Java.
As a result, I have also spent the past decades periodically defending my habit to non-coffee-drinking friends and the occasional health-fanatic doctor--because, as we all knew, coffee was bad for you. "Look," I'd tell the critics. "I don't have many vices. So I'm very attached to the few I have."
Well, huzzah and hurrah, all that is changing!
In a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a group of Harvard researchers announced that they'd found that coffee consumption actually reduces the risk of prostate cancer, and particularly lethal prostate cancer, in men. Not only that, but a Swedish study published last week in Breast Cancer Research indicates that coffee could also help reduce a woman's risk for post-menopausal, ER-negative breast cancer.
All of that is in addition to other recent studies that have found links between coffee consumption and a decreased risk of gallstones, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson's disease, as well as lower rates of disease progression in liver cancer and cirrhosis. Other recent studies have indicated that coffee may not even increase a person's risk of heart disease or stroke. Turns out that coffee contains antioxidants and compounds that can improve glucose metabolism and insulin secretion. It also seems to have an effect on sex hormones, which is why researchers looked at its impact on prostate and breast cancer.
There are caveats to the results, of course. The strong correlation in the Harvard study came from men who drank six cups of coffee a day, and the Swedish study results applied to women who drank five or more cups of coffee a day. What's more, a German study (the MARIE study) that was used to validate the Swedish research findings did not show a statistically significant link between coffee consumption and a reduced risk of breast cancer--a result the Swedish researchers think may have to do with the fact that Swedish coffee is boiled, while German coffee is filtered. Of course, boiled coffee has also been shown to raise cholesterol levels, so drinking huge amounts of Swedish coffee in an effort to ward off ER-negative breast cancer might not be such a terrific idea. The Swedish paper also notes that the scientific community is still divided in its opinion of the toxicity of coffee.
But still. How has coffee managed to go from a universally agreed-upon vice to at least a potential virtue in such a relatively short period of time? The Harvard researchers suspect that part of the issue is that coffee drinking has traditionally been associated with other high-health-risk habits--e.g. drinking more alcohol, smoking, and not exercising--that muddied the waters of what role the coffee itself was playing.
"The difficulty of being able to separate the effects of coffee on health from the effects of associated behaviors, such as smoking or alcohol use, is one reason that coffee was seen as negative for so long," said Kathryn Wilson, one of the Harvard researchers. "Until there were computers that could handle the necessary statistics, along with studies with larger sample sizes, it was very difficult to control for multiple factors at once to see their individual effects on health outcomes."
The caveats are important, too. As an article in the New York Times Sunday Business section this week pointed out, scientific studies do support Quaker's claim that eating oatmeal can reduce cholesterol ... but only if you eat three or more bowls of it a day. Same with Activa's claims that the probiotics in its yogurt help to stimulate digestion (at least three servings a day). A "healthy" diet trying to hew to the standards of all these studies would be a horrific gorge-feast of multiple pots of coffee and so much oatmeal, yogurt, and other supposedly "healthy" foods that there'd likely be nothing all that healthy, and certainly nothing balanced, about it.
And that's not even taking into account the changing views on what foods are even healthy. Eggs were bad, and then good. The big benefits of soy milk are now suspect, even as coffee is seeing a reprieve. Drinking alcohol is a health risk, but drinking a moderate amount of red wine is good for your heart. On the other hand, a 2002 study by Spanish researchers found that people who drank more than two glasses of wine a day had a dramatically reduced risk of getting a cold. The head could spin, trying to keep up with it all.
Given all of that, I asked the Harvard team what advice they had for the average person, based on their research results.
"I wouldn't recommend that men change their coffee consumption based on this study (or any single study)," Wilson answered. "[But] I think this study is part of mounting evidence that you don't need to feel guilty about your current coffee consumption."
Guiltless coffee. Is it possible? I might have to ponder that over a glass of red wine ... or another cup of steaming Java.
The winners of the 27th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest have just been announced.
The winners of the 27th annual National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest have just been announced. Winning first prize, Anuar Patjane Floriuk of Tehuacán, Mexico, will receive an eight-day photo expedition for two to Costa Rica and the Panama Canal for a photograph of divers swimming near a humpback whale off the western coast of Mexico. Here, National Geographic has shared all of this year’s winners, gathered from four categories: Travel Portraits, Outdoor Scenes, Sense of Place, and Spontaneous Moments. Captions by the photographers.
Many psychiatrists believe that a new approach to diagnosing and treating depression—linking individual symptoms to their underlying mechanisms—is needed for research to move forward.
In his Aphorisms, Hippocrates defined melancholia, an early understanding of depression, as a state of “fears and despondencies, if they last a long time.” It was caused, he believed, by an excess of bile in the body (the word “melancholia” is ancient Greek for “black bile”).
Ever since then, doctors have struggled to create a more precise and accurate definition of the illness that still isn’t well understood. In the 1920s, the German psychiatrist Kurt Schneider argued that depression could be divided into two separate conditions, each requiring a different form of treatment: depression that resulted from changes in mood, which he called “endogenous depression,” and depression resulting from reactions to outside events, or “reactive depression.” His theory was challenged in 1926, when the British psychologist Edward Mapother argued in the British Medical Journal that there was no evidence for two distinct types of depression, and that the apparent differences between depression patients were just differences in the severity of the condition.
What would the American culture wars look like if they were less about “values” and more about Jesus?
Evangelical Christianity has long had a stranglehold on how Americans imagine public faith. Vague invocations of “religion”—whether it’s “religion vs. science” or “religious freedom”—usually really mean “conservative, Protestant, evangelical Christianity,” and this assumption inevitably frames debates about American belief. For the other three-quarters of the population—Catholics, Jews, other Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, secular Americans, Buddhists, Wiccans, etc.—this can be infuriating. For some evangelicals, it’s a sign of success, a linguistic triumph of the culture wars.
But not for Russell Moore. In 2013, the 43-year-old theologian became the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the political nerve center of the Southern Baptist Convention. His predecessor, Richard Land, prayed with George W. Bush, played hardball with Democrats, and helped make evangelicals a quintessentially Republican voting bloc.
The jobs that are least vulnerable to automation tend to be held by women.
Many economists and technologists believe the world is on the brink of a new industrial revolution, in which advances in the field of artificial intelligence will obsolete human labor at an unforgiving pace. Two Oxford researchers recently analyzed the skills required for more than 700 different occupations to determine how many of them would be susceptible to automation in the near future, and the news was not good: They concluded that machines are likely to take over 47 percent of today’s jobs within a few decades.
This is a dire prediction, but one whose consequences will not fall upon society evenly. A close look at the data reveals a surprising pattern: The jobs performed primarily by women are relatively safe, while those typically performed by men are at risk.
Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods. A therapist and mother reports.
If there’s one thing I learned in graduate school, it’s that the poet Philip Larkin was right. (“They fuck you up, your mum and dad, / They may not mean to, but they do.”) At the time, I was a new mom with an infant son, and I’d decided to go back to school for a degree in clinical psychology. With baby on the brain and term papers to write, I couldn’t ignore the barrage of research showing how easy it is to screw up your kids. Of course, everyone knows that growing up with “Mommy Dearest” produces a very different child from one raised by, say, a loving PTA president who has milk and homemade cookies waiting after school. But in that space between Joan Crawford and June Cleaver, where most of us fall, it seemed like a lot could go wrong in the kid-raising department.
Exceptional nonfiction stories from 2014 that are still worth encountering today
Each year, I keep a running list of exceptional nonfiction that I encounter as I publish The Best ofJournalism, an email newsletter that I send out once or twice a week. This is my annual attempt to bring some of those stories to a wider audience. I could not read or note every worthy article that was published last calendar year and I haven't included any paywalled articles or anything published at The Atlantic. But everything that follows is worthy of wider attention and engagement.
Ecuador tried to rewrite the rules of human migration—only to recoil at the results.
LAGO AGRIO, Ecuador—Hitler was behind the wheel, racing through a blur of jungle toward Ecuador’s border with Colombia. Only when an immigration officer in green fatigues hurried out from a checkpoint, yelling, did Hitler pump the brakes. The policeman asked if we wanted our passports stamped, and all four of us in the truck—an American, a Dane, a Colombian, and an Ecuadorian—declined. With that, the official waved goodbye and we lurched onward to Colombia.
The river that marks the border between the countries is anything but an impassable boundary. Along its length are dozens of illicit crossings, and the movement of people—and problems—from one bank to the other is a fact of daily life. From a bridge, I could see, on the Colombian side, a black plume of smoke rising from an oil pipeline that FARC rebels had reportedly bombed the previous day. On the Ecuadorian side was a ghost town of ramshackle sheds that those same guerrillas were known to rent for a few hours of partying.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Paul faced danger, Ani and Ray faced each other, and Frank faced some career decisions.
This is what happens when you devote two-thirds of a season to scene after scene after scene of Frank and Jordan’s Baby Problems, and Frank Shaking Guys Down, and Look How Fucked Up Ray and Ani Are, and Melancholy Singer in the Dive Bar Yet Again—and then you suddenly realize that with only a couple episodes left you haven’t offered even a rudimentary outline of the central plot.
What if Joe Biden is going to run for the Democratic nomination after all?
Most Democrats seem ready for Hillary Clinton—or at least appear content with her candidacy. But what about the ones who who were bidin’ for Biden? There are new signs the vice president might consider running for president after all.
Biden has given little indication he was exploring a run: There’s no super PAC, no cultivation of a network of fundraisers or grassroots organizers, few visits to early-primary states. While his boss hasn’t endorsed Clinton—and says he won’t endorse in the primary—many members of the Obama administration have gone to work for Clinton, including some close to Biden.
But Biden also hasn’t given any clear indication that he isn’t running, and a column by Maureen Dowd in Saturday’s New York Times has set off new speculation. One reason Biden didn’t get into the race was that his son Beau was dying of cancer, and the vice president was focused on being with his son. But before he died in May, Dowd reported, Beau Biden tried to get his father to promise to run. Now Joe Biden is considering the idea.