Caffeine has long been a polarizing substance. On one hand, it’s lauded for its ability to boost athletic performance and alertness, while on the other hand, it has been called physically and psychologically addictive, being blamed for everything from under eye circles to stomach problems. Now, a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute sheds new light on the stimulant and why you may not want to have second thoughts the next time you reach for your (gulp) fourth cup of joe.
Researchers from the National Cancer Institute found that people who drank more than four cups of coffee a day had, on average, a 20 percent lower risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, over 10 years. These findings only applied when subjects drank regular coffee, not decaf. The study, which is based on food and cancer information from nearly 450,000 people, adjusted for factors like age, smoking, alcohol use, family history of cancer and the potential effect of casual sun exposure, but researchers were not able to factor in sunscreen habits or skin color.
The theory in the study is that caffeine and other compounds found in coffee help keep cancer-fighting processes that are triggered by UV light under control. Further, in mice, the roasting process of coffee beans releases vitamin derivatives that protect against UV and there is some evidence that caffeine may act as a molecular sunscreen. Researchers, however, underscore that these findings, while very exciting, are still in their infancy, meaning that while it looks like there may be promising new ways to help protect ourselves from skin cancer, coffee can by no means replace daily sunscreen application. In the meantime, here’s to a promising coffee habit.