Coffee Drinking Lowers Women's Stroke Risk

MONDAY, Feb. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Drinking coffee appears to lower the risk for stroke among women, with more consumption translating into more protection, Spanish and American researchers suggest.

The finding stems from the tracking of both coffee habits and stroke occurrence among tens of thousands of American women across nearly a quarter century. And it adds to earlier indications that coffee might also offer some protection against diabetes, while not raising the risk for heart trouble.

However, the current evidence also includes a cautionary note for smokers: Their habit seems to wipe out whatever protection long-term coffee drinking might otherwise confer.

"Many people have been very concerned that coffee might actually be a risk factor for stroke, that it might, in fact, increase the risk of stroke," said the study's co-author, Rob M. van Dam, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston. "But here we saw that it might end up being beneficial rather than detrimental."

The findings were released Monday for the March 3 issue of Circulation.

To explore possible links between coffee drinking and stroke risk among women, the authors analyzed data on more than 83,000 women, who averaged about 55 years old and had participated in the Nurses' Health Study between 1980 and 2004. At the start of the study, none of the women had a history of stroke, heart disease, diabetes or cancer.

Based on the women's answers on seven food-habit surveys administered during the study, the researchers found that 84 percent of the women consumed at least some caffeinated coffee. As well, half said they drank decaffeinated coffee, 78 percent drank tea and 54 percent drank caffeinated sodas.

During the study's 24-year span, nearly 2,300 strokes occurred. More than half were ischemic strokes, which follow blood vessel blockage.

Coffee drinking was not linked to either the lowering or the raising of stroke risk among women who developed high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol.

But after considering factors such as cigarette and alcohol consumption, van Dam and his colleagues found that healthy women who consumed two to three cups of caffeinated coffee a day had, on average, a 19 percent lower risk for any kind of stroke than did women who drank less than one cup a month. Drinking four or more cups a day lowered risk by 20 percent.

Women who drank five to seven cups of coffee a week were 12 percent less likely to have a stroke than were those who downed just one cup a month, the study found.

The team then zeroed in on the impact tobacco might have on the coffee-stroke link, noting that coffee drinkers are often also smokers.

What they found was striking: Among women who never smoked or had smoked but quit, drinking four or more cups of coffee a day conferred a 43 percent reduced risk for all types of stroke. However, among women with similar coffee habits who also smoked, stroke risk fell by just 3 percent.

It remains unclear what specific aspect of coffee plays the principal role in stroke risk reduction. However, the researchers noted that caffeinated tea and soft drinks carried no similar benefit -- implying that some other component in coffee, apart from caffeine, might provide the protective effect.

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