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Colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer among men and women living in the United States, will likely claim the lives of more than 50,000 people this year. The cancer often metastasizes, or spreads, to other sites, particularly the lungs, liver, or brain, decreasing a person’s chances of survival from the disease. Findings from a new study suggest that drinking coffee reduces the risk of colorectal cancer metastasis.

Coffee contains a multitude of polyphenolic compounds that appear to exert beneficial health effects, including quercetin, chlorogenic acid, and others. Drinking coffee is linked with reduced disease burden and increased lifespan, possibly due to coffee’s ability to induce autophagy. Other evidence suggests that coffee’s beneficial effects arise from its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects as well as its capacity to maintain healthy blood insulin levels – a critical aspect in colorectal cancer outcomes.

The prospective observational cohort study involved more than 1,100 people with colorectal cancer who were enrolled in a larger randomized clinical trial investigating the efficacy of chemotherapy drugs. The study participants, who were between the ages of 51 and 67 years, provided information about what they ate and drank using a food frequency questionnaire.

Over a period of approximately five years, 93 percent of the participants experienced disease progression, or they died. Participants who drank coffee were less likely to die than those who did not, and this association was dose dependent. For example, those who drank two to three cups per day were 18 percent less likely to die, and those who drank four cups per day were 36 percent less likely to die. These associations held true regardless of whether they drank caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee.

These findings suggest that drinking coffee reduces the risk of disease progression and death in people with advanced or metastatic colorectal cancer. A key player in suppression of tumor growth is autophagy, a biological process that inhibits cancer-cell survival and induces cell death. Learn more about how coffee induces autophagy in this clip featuring autophagy expert, Dr. Guido Kroemer.

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