The Case for Coffee: All the Latest Research to Defend Your Caffeine Addiction, in One Place

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What we know about coffee's benefits so far, distilled

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These days, coffee is practically a universal part of our modern workplace condition. Many of us harbor some secret fear that the gallons of brown liquid we're slurping every day is doing us no good. We cling to scraps of evidence -- like this one suggesting coffee contributes to your daily recommended fluid intake -- showing that coffee in superhuman amounts is safe. And we pour ourselves another when a new study comes out implying the stuff can make us even healthier than we already are. 

Lately, coffee addicts have been winning little victories every few weeks. This time, it's a double win: a pair of studies suggesting that something about the drink may contain anti-aging and cancer-fighting properties.

One study, presented last week to the Society for Experimental Biology, appears to show an appreciable benefit in the muscle strength of mice who've been given caffeine. Researchers from Coventry University examined two main muscles -- the diaphragm and a key leg muscle called the extensor digitorum longus -- in their test animals before and after the treatment. They noticed a strong link between caffeine intake and better muscle performance among adult mice, with a somewhat weaker relationship for elderly subjects and a small, though still measurable, effect on juvenile mice. The scientists say their findings could be significant for people heading into their golden years, as muscles tend to weaken with age -- increasing the likelihood of trips, falls and other mishaps. Who wouldn't want to be able to maintain their muscle tone by sipping a cup of joe every morning?

The second of the two studies suggests that a moderate intake of caffeinated coffee is associated with a decreased risk for a common skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma. Looking at two large databases of men and women, Harvard researcher Jiali Han found that roughly 20 percent of nearly 113,000 study subjects developed basal cell carcinoma over two decades of follow-up. Among the participants, there was an inverse relationship between those who ate or drank caffeinated foods or beverages (coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.) and their risk for the cancer. Seemingly reinforcing the favorable finding for caffeine, decaf items seemed to have no link to basal cell carcinoma. Unfortunately, neither caffeine nor coffee had any bearing on two other forms of skin cancer studied, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

The new results join a litany of fantastic recent findings in coffee research. Here's a quick roundup: The National Institutes of Health made a splash in May this year when their research noted a relationship between coffee consumption and a decreased risk for mortality:

Coffee-drinking men cut their risk for death by 12 percent after four to five cups of java, according to the study, which was led by the National Institutes of Health's Neal Freedman. Women who drank the same amount had their the risk of death reduced by 16 percent.

The report sparked some confusion, too, as coffee drinkers were also puzzlingly more -- yes, more -- likely to die. The reason? Coffee drinkers are also generally smokers. How can coffee drinkers can be both more and less likely to die seems like an arithmetic mystery -- but cut out smoking altogether, and the correlation between coffee and longer lives still stands. The lesson there may simply be to drink coffee and quit smoking.

We've also learned that coffee can protect your heart, reduce the risk of prostate and breast cancer, and curb the risk of fibrosis among those with fatty liver disease. The research even extends to the bustling, steamy shops from which we procure our daily java fix: studies show being surrounded by a moderate amount of noise can actually make you more creative.

With the evidence mounting in favor of coffee, it's hard not to pump your fist and declare your daily four-shot latte justified. True enough, it's worth remembering that most of these studies show correlations at best, and some of them don't even involve humans. The case for coffee isn't exactly slam-dunk for sure -- but then again, science never is.

Did we miss a piece of key research? Let us know in the comments.

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Brian Fung is the technology writer at National Journal. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and has written for Foreign Policy and The Washington Post.

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