Is coffee a beverage that may support prostate health, or is it harmful? When it comes to prostate health, coffee and the caffeine and other components it contains can be troublesome for men who have BPH, but if your concern is prostate cancer, coffee and caffeine appear to be safe for now, and may even lower your risk in some cases. If you are concerned about overall health, then looking at how coffee and caffeine affect the prostate and BPH and other issues deserves a careful look.
BPH and Caffeine
For men who have benign prostatic hyperplasia, drinking coffee can be detrimental, because the caffeine can stimulate an already overactive bladder, which means it can increase urinary frequency and urgency and may even result in urge incontinence. Caffeine can act on the bladder in several ways. One, it increases how fast urine is produced, which means your bladder fills up faster. Two, caffeine enhances the sensation and contractility of the bladder.
Another way caffeine can affect prostate health is through its ability to irritate the bladder because it is a theoxanthine, a family of drugs that includes theobromine (found in chocolate) and theophylline (found in tea). Theophylline also stimulates and irritates the bladder. (Note: The good news about tea is that it contains about half as much caffeine as does coffee, and green tea contains even less.)
If BPH and urinary tract symptoms are an issue, you can monitor your intake of coffee and your body’s reaction to it by keeping a daily record or journal of how much coffee you drink and any reactions to it.
If you are a coffee drinker and you want to reduce or stop drinking it, do not quit abruptly, because you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea and pounding headaches that can last for several days.
Caffeine and Prostate Cancer
Several studies have explored the impact of coffee on prostate cancer. According to the results of recent research conducted by Dr. Chang-Hae Park from the National Cancer Center in South Korea, there is no association between prostate cancer and drinking coffee, but there is still some controversy. To arrive at their conclusion, Park and his team evaluated the results of 12 studies that compared coffee intake and prostate cancer risk. Eight of the studies were case-control studies and four were cohort studies.
Although the investigators found a significant harmful association between coffee consumption and prostate cancer risk in seven of the eight case-control studies, they also noted that the studies had severe limitations that affected the outcomes. None of the cohort studies showed any significant association between coffee consumption and prostate cancer. Therefore, while Park and his team reported there is no evidence that coffee consumption has an effect on prostate cancer, further prospective cohort studies are needed.
The journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research published a study in 2009 in which researchers evaluated the impact of coffee and tea on prostate health. Investigators concluded that while coffee had no apparent relationship with prostate cancer, evidence from animal and in vitro studies suggests that tea, and especially green tea, is a healthier choice than coffee for prostate health.
At Umea University in Sweden, researchers analyzed the effects of both filtered and boiled coffee on the incident of cancer. From a study population of more than 64,000, there were 3,034 cases of cancer, with up to 15 years of follow-up. The investigators did not find an association between consumption of filtered or boiled coffee and all types of cancer combined, or for prostate or colorectal cancer in particular. Men should note that the researchers did find an increased risk of respiratory tract cancer in men (but not women) who drank boiled coffee.
The findings of a large study that considered nearly 50,000 men are also worth mentioning. Harvard researchers used data from the Health professionals’ Follow-Up Study to determine if there was an association between the consumption of regular and decaffeinated coffee and prostate cancer.
Over two decades, a total of 4,975 cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed. According to Kathryn Wilson, PhD, from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, she and her team “specifically looked at different types of prostate cancer, such as advanced vs. localized cancers or high-grade vs. low-grade cancer.” They found that men who had the highest intake of coffee had a 60 percent lower risk of advanced prostate cancer. Wilson noted that “Our results do suggest there is no reason to stop drinking coffee out of any concern about prostate cancer.” The findings were presented at the American Association for Cancer Research Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research Conference in 2009.
Caffeine, Overall Health, and Stress
Aside from coffee and caffeine’s impact on your prostate, they also have an impact on other aspects of your health. On the upside, studies indicate that consuming coffee and caffeine is associated with a reduced risk of certain diseases. For example, a new study (January 2011) published in Cancer Causes & Control found that drinking three or more cups of coffee daily was associated with a 44 percent reduced risk of developing liver cancer in a group of older Chinese adults, a population at high-risk for the disease.
Similarly, a recent review study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reported on the results of studies that explored a relationship between coffee and dementia. The researchers concluded that coffee drinking may be associated with a reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Combining coffee, caffeine, and stress can be an unhealthy mix. Given the high levels of stress related to family, finances, work, environmental factors, and social obligations so many people face every day, you would be wise to reconsider that second cup of coffee—or even the first—if stress is a part of your life.
Here are some reasons why stress, coffee, and caffeine don’t always mix well.
- Coffee raises stress hormone levels. Elevated levels of stress hormones, including norepinephrine and especially cortisol, are responsible for raising heart rate and blood pressure. When you combine coffee/caffeine with stress, you place your stress hormones on high alert, which in turn puts your heart rate and blood pressure in unhealthy states as well. Elevated stress hormones also weaken your immune system. If you reduce your coffee/caffeine consumption, you will lower your stress hormone levels, blood pressure, and heart rate, and help preserve your immune system health.
- Coffee contributes to weight gain. The higher cortisol levels associated with coffee consumption are also linked to insulin resistance, increased appetite, and cravings for fatty foods. High cortisol levels can also contribute to fat deposits in the abdomen, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
- Coffee plus stress may equal heart attack. Coffee consumption can increase stress, which is a known risk factor for heart attack, heart palpitations, and elevated homocysteine, another risk factor for heart disease. If you are stressed, coffee is not a healthy beverage for your heart.
- Stress and coffee affect the brain. Stress has a detrimental effect on the parts of the brain responsible for planning, decision making, and reasoning. When you add caffeine, your mental abilities, mood, and memory can suffer, because caffeine interferes with blood flow to the brain. To keep mentally sharp, reduce your use of coffee and caffeine.
- Stress and coffee disrupt sleep. Stress and worry can keep you awake, and the stimulating effects of caffeine, when added to the picture, can thoroughly disrupt your ability to sleep. If you eliminate coffee, you may regain the ability to sleep.
- Stress and coffee irritate your GI tract. Coffee and caffeine are highly acidic, which can increase the risk of heartburn, ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome. Reduce your coffee intake, and reduce your risk of these gastrointestinal problems.
The bottom line is, an occasional cup of coffee will not likely have a negative effect on prostate health or your overall health as well. If you have BPH, it may be wise to avoid coffee, or limit your consumption to early in the day. If you want to enhance prostate health and general well-being, however, the better choice all around is green tea.