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Researchers Look for Health Benefits of Popular Drink

April 30, 2007 -- Scientific research may soon help coffee shed some of its image as an unhealthy drink. Or at least that's what the big companies that sell it are hoping it will do.

With tens of millions of cups of coffee jolting Americans awake each day, a bevy of research is under way trying to tease out the health advantages -- and disadvantages -- of the nation's coffee fixation.

Coffee's image took a hit in 1982 when a major study concluded that frequent use increased the risk of pancreatic cancer. Since then, coffee companies have funded more and more research seeking to show the opposite: that coffee may actually have some health benefits.

While studies are backing up some of the health warnings, a growing body of research is suggesting that daily coffee consumption may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

According to Lenore Arab, PhD, a nutritional epidemiologist at UCLA, other studies suggest less conclusively that coffee could help lower the risk of liver cancer, Parkinson's disease, and possibly colon cancer. And Arab says other research suggests high coffee intake by pregnant women can put their children at risk of leukemia.

Arab spoke at the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology annual meeting in Washington. He says two major studies, one from Canada and the other from Uruguay, showed a 60% to 70% increased risk of bladder cancer among regular coffee drinkers.

"Cancer -- the total picture -- is somewhat mixed," Arab says.

"Basically, it's neutral," says Dan Steffen, a scientific public relations official with Kraft Foods.

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