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Buckets of coffee, sweetened drinks don't boost colon cancer

May 7, 2010 |  6:34 pm

The shifting tides of medical research on coffee has given java -- and those who drink it -- an all-clear. This week, at least.

A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute concludes that people who coffee daily -- even four or more cups -- are no more likely to develop colon cancer than those who do not drink coffee.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health also concluded there's no higher risk of colon cancer among those who drink sweetened beverages daily. They did, however, find a small increase in risk of colon cancer among those who drank a lot of tea -- 32 oz or more a day. It was a weak signal worthy of further research, they said.

The study pooled data on more than 730,000 people scattered across the globe, and subjects were followed for anywhere between six and 20 years. Given the size and scope of the population studies, subjects' beverage choices and volumes ran the gamut. There weren't a lot of adult subjects who drank three or more sweetened beverages a day, which prompted editorialists at the journal to suggest that this study won't be the final word on cancer risk and sweetened beverages. But for coffee and tea, at least, this seems to be a study whose results you can take to the bank. 

This comes on the  heels of actual good news about coffee consumption: that the heavenly brew appears to help protect against diabetes, liver cancer and cirrhosis and Parkinson's disease.

But the study does leave unsolved the mystery of colon cancer's links to diet. Researchers surmise that because rates of colorectal cancer vary widely from country to country, there must be some environmental factor that increases risk, and they've long suspected it's diet. But whether red meat contributes to colon cancer or not, whether fruits and vegetable consumption protect against it: Evidence has swung back and forth on these.

At least we know it's not coffee. For now.

--Melissa Healy