Cocoa, Coffee and CancerApril 4, 2009 Written by JP [Font too small?]
Right now I’m sitting in my office sipping a large mug of my favorite “anti-cancer cocktail”. It’s an afternoon ritual for me. But like all beliefs and rituals, it wise to occasionally reassess them to make sure the reason for practicing said rituals is still valid. So, that’s exactly what I’m going to do today.
The Kuna are a group of Indians that reside on the San Blas islands just off the coast of Panama. Scientifically speaking, they’re of great interest because they have far different mortality statistics than their neighbors who live on mainland Panama. The numbers are really quite startling:
- Between the years of 2000 and 2004, there were a total of 77,375 deaths on mainland Panama. In comparison, there were 558 deaths in the San Blas (where only the Kuna live).
- The rate of heart related deaths was roughly 9 times higher in Panamanians, as compared to the Kunas.
- The prevalence of diabetes was about 3.5 times greater in Panamanians.
- The most dramatic figures were the cancer rates, which were roughly 15 times higher in Panama.
One of the proposed reasons is that the Kuna consume a cocoa-based beverage as their primary drink of choice. It is the antioxidants (specifically flavonoids) in cocoa that are theorized to offer at least a portion of the observed protective effect.
It’s likely that there are other nutritional, environmental or cultural factors involved in the vast differences in mortality among these populations. So I went looking for a more scientific basis for an anti-cancer effect in cocoa. Here’s what I discovered:
- A study that’s published in the April issue of the British Journal of Nutrition offers several possible explanations for cocoas chemoprotective properties (protection against cancer). The authors of this paper first focus on the powerful antioxidants naturally found in unprocessed cocoa. They go on to point out that these substances may positively impact immune function, which is known to help keep cancer in check.
- Additional research published in June of 2008 suggests that certain antioxidants in cocoa may specifically interfere with the growth of abnormal (cancerous) tissues.
- A separate study, also published in June of last year, showed that a purified cocoa extract selectively inhibited the growth of 16 different types of human cancer cells. When this same extract was tested on 6 healthy cell lines, it did not cause any harm. This is vital because in order for any substance to be a viable candidate for cancer therapy, it needs to be toxic to cancer cells, but safe for normal cells.
- Finally, a trial published in February 2008 in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention found that a concentrated cocoa powder protected rats from clinically induced prostate cancer. This study is further supported by earlier research presented in the same journal. In that experiment, the authors proclaimed that, “cocoa polyphenols extracts have an antiproliferative effect on prostate cancer cell growth, but not on normal cells at the highest tested concentration.”
But that’s only half of the story. My self-proclaimed “anti-cancer” drink isn’t just made of organic cocoa. It also contains a generous spoonful of organic instant coffee. Coffee protects against cancer? It just might according to some of the findings that I’ve come across.
A review article that’s set to be published in May of 2009 summarizes the connection between coffee consumption and cancer in this way, “current evidence suggests that coffee consumption is associated with a reduced risk of liver, kidney and, to a lesser extent, premenopausal breast and colorectal cancers.”
There appears to be other cancers that are also sensitive to coffee intake as well. For instance, a brand new study shows a significantly reduced risk of endometrial cancer for those who drink the highest amounts of coffee or black tea.
Both chocolate and coffee have a controversial reputation in the medical community. The research I presented today is unlikely to change that. But I know that I feel a lot better enjoying a hot cup of “ChocoCoffee” with the knowledge that it just may give me the upper hand in staying cancer free in the years to come.
Oh! Did I mention that it tastes great and gives me lots of energy too?
Update from June 9, 2009 – Click Here
Tags: Cancer, Cocoa, Coffee
Posted in Nutrition