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.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Thicker ink, fewer smudges, and more strained hands: an Object Lesson
Recently, Bic launched acampaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.
As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.
The neurologist leaves behind a body of work that reveals a lifetime of asking difficult questions with empathy.
Oliver Sacks always seemed propelled by joyful curiosity. The neurologist’s writing is infused with this quality—equal parts buoyancy and diligence, the exuberant asking of difficult questions.
More specifically, Sacks had a fascination with ways of seeing and hearing and thinking. Which is another way of exploring experiences of living. He focused on modes of perception that are delightful not only because they are subjective, but precisely because they are very often faulty.
To say Sacks had a gift for this method of exploration is an understatement. He was a master at connecting curiosity to observation, and observation to emotion. Sacks died on Sunday after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis earlier this year. He was 82.
A new study pinpoints the Facebook status updates that irk us to the point of no return.
In the 1997 movie Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, the two title characters, worried that they haven’t done anything noteworthy to share at said reunion, decide instead to lie and claim they invented Post-it notes.
Their story quickly unravels, of course, but had the movie been made a decade later, even the very concept of the ruse would have been impossible. Everyone would have known about Romy’s daily slog at the Jaguar dealership through Facebook.
Or would they?
The ebb and flow of Facebook friendships has become fruitful territory for social scientists in recent years. At least 63 percent of people report having unfriended someone on Facebook, but what prompts these digital rejections can tell us a lot about both the nature of real-life friendship and about how we manage our online personalities.
Wine snobs, string quartets, and the limits of intuition
Several months ago, this author sat at a classical music concert, trying to convince himself that wine is not bullshit.
That may seem like a strange thought to have while listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major. But Priceonomics had recently posted an article investigating The Price of Wine, part of which reviewed research that cast doubt on both consumers’ and wine experts’ ability to distinguish between quality wine and table wine or identify different wines and their flavors. It seemed a slippery slope to the conclusion that wine culture is nothing more than actors performing a snobbish play.
Listening to an accomplished musician while lacking any musical experience resulted in a feeling familiar to casual wine drinkers imbibing an expensive bottle: Feeling somewhat ambivalent and wondering whether you are convincing yourself that you enjoy it so as not to appear uncultured.
Grasses—green, neatly trimmed, symbols of civic virtue—shaped the national landscape. They have now outlived their purpose.
The hashtag #droughtshaming—which primarily exists, as its name suggests, to publicly decry people who have failed to do their part to conserve water during California’s latest drought—has claimed many victims. Anonymous lawn-waterers. Anonymous sidewalk-washers. The city of Beverly Hills. The tag’s most high-profile shamee thus far, however, has been the actor Tom Selleck. Who was sued earlier this summer by Ventura County’s Calleguas Municipal Water District for the alleged theft of hydrant water, supposedly used to nourish his 60-acre ranch. Which includes, this being California, an avocado farm, and also an expansive lawn.
The case was settled out of court on terms that remain undisclosed, and everyone has since moved on with their lives. What’s remarkable about the whole thing, though—well, besides the fact that Magnum P.I. has apparently become, in his semi-retirement, a gentleman farmer—is how much of a shift all the Selleck-shaming represents, as a civic impulse. For much of American history, the healthy lawn—green, lush, neatly shorn—has been a symbol not just of prosperity, individual and communal, but of something deeper: shared ideals, collective responsibility, the assorted conveniences of conformity. Lawns, originally designed to connect homes even as they enforced the distance between them, are shared domestic spaces. They are also socially regulated spaces. “When smiling lawns and tasteful cottages begin to embellish a country,” Andrew Jackson Downing, one of the nation’s first landscaper-philosophers, put it, “we know that order and culture are established.”
The new drama series, which follows the Colombian kingpin’s rise to power, feels more like a well-researched documentary than the gripping saga it wants to be.
Netflix’s new series Narcos is possibly arriving at the wrong time: The doldrums of summer aren’t really the ideal moment for a narratively dense, documentary-like look at the rise and fall of the Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Narrated in voiceover by DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), the early hours of Narcos feel like a history lesson, though an visually sumptuous one.
As Netflix continues to expand its streaming empire, it’s making a concerted effort to appeal to worldwide audiences, and Narcos fits neatly into that plan, alongside last year’s expensive critical flop Marco Polo. Narcos was shot on location in Colombia and stars the acclaimed Brazilian actor Wagner Moura as Escobar. It takes full advantage of its setting, loaded with sweeping helicopter shots of the Colombian jungle where Escobar founded his cocaine empire, filling a power vacuum left by various political upheavals in late-’70s South America.
Today’s college students can’t seem to take a joke.
Three comics sat around a café table in the chilly atrium of the Minneapolis Convention Center, talking about how to create the cleanest possible set. “Don’t do what’s in your gut,” Zoltan Kaszas said. “Better safe than sorry,” Chinedu Unaka offered. Feraz Ozel mused about the first time he’d ever done stand-up: three minutes on giving his girlfriend herpes and banging his grandma. That was out.
This was not a case of professionals approaching a technical problem as an intellectual exercise. Money was riding on the answer. They had come to Minneapolis in the middle of a brutal winter for the annual convention of the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA), to sell themselves and their comedy on the college circuit. Representatives of more than 350 colleges had come as well, to book comics, musicians, sword swallowers, unicyclists, magicians, hypnotists, slam poets, and every kind of boat act, inspirational speaker, and one-trick pony you could imagine for the next academic year.
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.
Residents of Newtok, Alaska voted to relocate as erosion destroyed their land. That was the easy part.
NEWTOK, Alaska—Two decades ago, the people of this tiny village came to terms with what had become increasingly obvious: They could no longer fight back the rising waters.
Their homes perched on a low-lying, treeless tuft of land between two rivers on Alaska’s west coast, residents saw the water creeping closer every year, gobbling up fields where they used to pick berries and hunt moose. Paul and Teresa Charles watched from their blue home on stilts on Newtok’s southern side as the Ninglick River inched closer and closer, bringing with it the salt waters of the Bering Sea.
“Sometimes, we lose 100 feet a year,” Paul Charles told me, over a bowl of moose soup.
Many communities across the world are trying to stay put as the climate changes, installing expensive levees and dikes and pumps, but not Newtok, a settlement of about 350 members of the Yupik people. In 1996, the village decided that fighting Mother Nature was fruitless, and they voted to move to a new piece of land nine miles away, elevated on bedrock.