Science News

Coffee Can Prevent Colon Cancer

Sat, 18th Oct 2003

Part of the show How does the Nose Work ?

Good news this week for coffee drinkers because German researchers have tracked down a chemical in coffee that may help to prevent colon cancer- the second leading cause of death in the USA. Coffee has been known for some time to be rich in antioxidants - chemicals that mop up molecules in our cells that can damage DNA. It's this damaged DNA that can cause cells to become cancerous. The anticancer chemical is a compound called methylpyridinium, and appears to be unique to coffee. It's created during the roasting process and is present in decaffeinated coffee as well as the normal type, and also in instant coffee. The researchers treated human intestine cells, grown in culture in the lab, with coffee extracts and found an increase in the levels of so-called 'phase two' enzymes, which have anticancer properties. When they fed either coffee extracts or pure methylpyridinium to rats, the rats had a massive increase in their phase two enzymes- up to forty percent. Thomas Hofman, one of the team that did the research, says that it's impossible to know exactly how much coffee might be protective in humans and whether there are any side effects until proper clinical trials are done, but he thinks that getting in a few strong brews every day may well have a beneficial effect. And for those who don't like coffee, perhaps a methylpyridinium pill might be the solution in the future.

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