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.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
William Jennings Bryan, the populist presidential hopeful, warned of an “epidemic of fake news” in his day.
Fake news is everywhere. The power of the press is said to be waning. And because the nation’s most famous populist—the man with his sights on the presidency—can’t trust the lying media, he says, he has no option but to be a publisher himself.
Oh yeah, and the year is 1896.
The would-be president in question is William Jennings Bryan. In an era before the internet, television, or radio, the best way to reach the masses is with newsprint. So, without the option of tweeting his grievances after losing the election to William McKinley, what does Bryan do? He starts his own newspaper. And he uses it to rail against “fake news.”
I don’t need to tell you a lot of this sounds weirdly familiar.
“There seems to be an epidemic of fake news from the city of Lincoln, [Nebraska], and it all comes from Mr. Bryan’s ‘friends’—names not given,” Bryan’s newspaper, The Commoner,wrote in 1907. “It would seem unnecessary to deny reports sent out to which no name was attached, and yet it has been necessary to send a number of telegrams to notify other papers that the report was unauthorized … As Mr. Bryan has a paper—The Commoner—through which he speaks every week, and as he is speaking often and giving out interviews frequently, a newspaper ought to view with suspicion any report sent out from Lincoln or anywhere else purporting to state what Mr. Bryan thinks or intends to do.” (In this case, the issue at hand was Bryan’s stance against a third term for Teddy Roosevelt, which some papers had apparently questioned.)
In the age of the digital hermit, a psychologist explains what it means to avoid other people—and what to do about it.
People today might not actually be avoiding social interaction any more than they did in past decades, but they’re certainly more vocal about it. The rise of digital communication seems to be spawning a nation of indoor cats, all humble-bragging about how introverted they are and ordering their rides and groceries without ever talking to a human.
Sometimes reclusiveness can be a sign of something more serious, though. Social anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses, but it’s still poorly understood outside of scientific circles. The good news is that it’s highly treatable, according to Stefan G. Hofmann, the director of the Social Anxiety Program at Boston University.
I recently talked with Hofmann about how social anxiety works and what people who feel socially anxious can do about it. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Without any of his key appointees confirmed by the Senate, the incoming president has turned to existing officials to help smooth the transition.
Donald Rumsfeld is not joining the Trump administration, but one of his most famous rules is: “You go to war with the Army you have—not the Army you might wish you have.” Or the secretary of the Army, as the case might be.
With the process of vetting and appointing, to say nothing of confirming, executive-branch officials well behind the optimal pace, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during a briefing on Thursday that “over 50” members of the Obama administration will temporarily remain in their posts to help smooth the transition to the Trump administration.
Spicer did not name all of the officials, nor did he indicate whether others had been asked and declined to stay on. A message to the Trump transition team, asking for a full list, has not been answered. Reuters reported Thursday afternoon that some individuals on a list, dated Tuesday, of appointees being asked to stay on had declined to do so, including the principal deputy director of national intelligence, an undersecretary of state, and an assistant secretary of state.
How the vice president spent a few of his closing days in office
When I boarded Air Force Two for Vice President Joe Biden’s final overseas mission, he had four days left in office. His leverage was diminishing by the hour, with every new question at a Trump nominee confirmation hearing, with every new @RealDonaldTrump tweet.
There was no chance of a miracle at that point, a few days away from Vice President-elect Mike Pence getting Biden’s keys to Air Force Two—to somehow rid Ukraine of its debilitating corruption, pull off a Cyprus deal, or stand between Kosovo and Serbia and neutralize the tension between them for good. It’s hard to shame Russian President Vladimir Putin or to inspire him to spiff up his behavior if the president-elect seems to accept Putin just as he is. And of course, there’s Iraq.
More clues that the Facebook founder is eyeing a run for office
There’s a long-running theory that Mark Zuckerberg has presidential aspirations. It makes sense to wonder. After all, if the civically engaged and ambitious billionaire leader of the most powerful media company on the planet wanted to take on a new challenge, why not try running a country? It’s not like he has many other opportunities for a promotion.
But only in recent weeks has a Zuckerberg run for the American presidency started to seem like a legitimate possibility. First there was his personal challenge for 2017: Zuckerberg’s aiming to visit and meet with people in all 50 states by the end of the year.
And not just that, but he framed the exercise in a way that sounds, well, political: “Going into this challenge, it seems we are at a turning point in history,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “For decades, technology and globalization have made us more productive and connected. This has created many benefits, but for a lot of people it has also made life more challenging. This has contributed to a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime. We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone.”
Curfews, sports, and understanding kids’ brain chemistry have all helped dramatically curb substance abuse in the country.
It’s a little before 3 p.m. on a sunny Friday afternoon and Laugardalur Park, near central Reykjavik, looks practically deserted. There’s an occasional adult with a stroller, but the park’s surrounded by apartment blocks and houses, and school’s out—so where are all the kids?
Walking with me are Gudberg Jónsson, a local psychologist, and Harvey Milkman, an American psychology professor who teaches for part of the year at Reykjavik University. Twenty years ago, says Gudberg, Icelandic teens were among the heaviest-drinking youths in Europe. “You couldn’t walk the streets in downtown Reykjavik on a Friday night because it felt unsafe,” adds Milkman. “There were hordes of teenagers getting in-your-face drunk.”
The president-elect filled out his Cabinet on Thursday by nominating former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary.
Updated on January 19, 2017
A day before his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump has filled out his Cabinet.
Trump on Thursday morning announced the nomination of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as secretary of agriculture, completing a search that took the duration of his presidential transition.
Perdue, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011, grew up on a farm in Georgia and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine. “Sonny Perdue is going to accomplish great things as Secretary of Agriculture,” Trump said in a statement. “From growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, he has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face, and he is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land.”
Unlike past presidents-elect, Donald Trump hasn’t expanded his support since the election. His belligerent attitude toward his critics may be one reason why.
Donald Trump always seems most grounded in chaos. He thrives on contradicting his aides, surprising his allies, disparaging his opponents. He revels in the tempest.
This combustible approach has touched a chord with his base of primarily non-college-educated and non-urban white voters who have felt eclipsed both economically and culturally and slighted by the nation’s leadership. But he will arrive at his inaugural Friday facing more resistance in public opinion than any newly elected president in the history of polling, and with lingering clouds over his legitimacy—symbolized by the surprisingly widespread House Democratic boycott of the ceremony. Trump’s agenda is polarizing enough, but the intensity of that opposition appears rooted even more in his relentless belligerence toward any critical voice or institution.