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Coffee May Reduce Melanoma Risk

Skin cancer is caused by the abnormal growth of your skin cells in areas that may have been overly-exposed to the sun (your face, scalp, ears, chest, arms, hands, legs, and palms). There are three different categories of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.

Skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer in the U.S. In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, each year in the U.S. there are five million people treated for skin cancer. There are several types of skin cancer, melanoma being the most serious form.

What are the signs and symptoms of melanoma?

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, when looking for signs of melanoma, you need to know your ABCDEs: asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolving.

While staying out of the sun for long periods of time can help reduce your risk, there may be a new method of prevention: drinking coffee. 

Researchers from Yale analyzed over 440,000 people given food questionnaires that specifically looked at their coffee intake. After 10 years, researchers revisited these participants and determined the risk of melanoma. Researchers found that drinking coffee lowered the risk of melanoma by 10 percent. The risk was 20 percent lower for those who drank four or more cups a day.

What else do you need to know about melanoma risk and coffee intake?

Dr. Mike shares the recent study and how coffee could reduce your chances of melanoma.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: May 5, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD


DR MIKE: So, this one is for all of my coffee drinkers out there, me included. Did you know that coffee, according to a report published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, may reduce melanoma risk? That's nice. We like that. For me, I'm not a big coffee drinker. A couple cups in the morning I brew them pretty strong though. Here in South Florida we have a lot of good Cuban coffees. They're technically espressos but I'll use them just as normal drip.

So, it's strong. But only two. That's about all I can do. And, you know, we've talked about coffee in the past, too. You know, coffee has a compound in it, an anti-oxidant, called chlorogenic acid. Chlorogenic acid has a lot of different effects in the body but ultimately it helps you to manage sugar better.

I'm not sure if we're really teasing out from this study--the key compounds in coffee--but it could be some of the other polyphenols, maybe even chlorogenic acid because of how it manages sugar. I don't know but here's what the headline and this, by the way, is a summary of the report written by Maylin Paez at Life Extension she also writes for my show, if you want to read her full report on Coffee May Reduce Melanoma Risk. Go check it out at

Here's the headline: Four Cups of Coffee a Day Linked to 20% Lower Melanoma Risk.

That's pretty significant. I mean, this time of the year we talk a lot more about skin cancer/melanoma. Usually, most of your medical groups, they use the early-spring, mid-spring to start talking about skin cancer prevention, skin protection, sun protection, that kind of stuff. So, very consistent this time of the year. We usually talk something about skin cancer. In this case, of course, melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. It's very metastatic. As a matter of fact, you know, the issue with melanoma is, it's often caught late and because it is so metastatic, meaning it spreads so easily to other organs, that it's often too late in many cases.

So let's get to the research here. Researchers from Yale analyzed data from a study involving over 440,000 people. That's pretty good. Participants were given questionnaires.

I'm sorry--food questionnaires--which analyzed their coffee intake. They were followed up after a period of ten years on average to determine the incidence of melanoma. So, granted it's a survey type study and if you listen to my show, you know how I feel about surveys. You can't draw any definitive conclusions from surveys and questionnaires and stuff like that but they can be what I like to call "hypothesis generating".

That's why, if you noticed, the title for this segment is called Coffee "May" Reduce Melanoma Risk because it's a questionnaire and there's limitations there. So, anyway, you have 440,000 people, good number, food questionnaire, followed for 10 years. That's all good stuff. Compared to non-drinkers coffee drinking lowered the risk of melanoma by 10%.

The risk was 20% lower for individuals who drank 4 or more cups daily. So, here you have two sets of data: coffee drinking in and of itself 1 cup, 2 cup, 3 cups, whatever. Just coffee drinkers, 10% less risk of melanoma. However, the significant number comes with 4 cups a day where there was a 20% lower risk of melanoma. Four cups. Is that a lot for most people? I don't know. Maybe we should look this up.

How much coffee does the average American drink a day? How many cups? Interestingly, you know, most Americans get their anti-oxidants from coffee? I don't know if that's a great thing but that's true. I mean, coffee comes from a bean--a plant, right? Hey, plants have lots of good anti-oxidants. That's fine. I don't know, though, 4 cups. Is that considered a lot for most people in this country?

For me, as I said, 2 cups. That's about all I can do but at least at two cups and I'm going to lower my risk of melanoma by 10%. Now, this is where it gets interesting. The results did not hold true for decaffeinated coffee. So, what's going on there? Now, you might be prone to think when you hear that "Well, it must be the caffeine! The caffeine is lowering it. Let's just take caffeine pills!" No, no, no. It might be. Caffeine might be playing a role here but most likely what happens when you decaffeinate anything, it's another step of processing. You begin to strip away other key nutritious compounds those plant based anti-oxidants called polyphenols.

As you process anything, you pick the plant, you take the plant and make it a powder, you put the powder in a capsule, you put preservatives in the cap. All of that is processing. Every step along the way, you lose nutrients. So, my thought here, the reason it didn't hold true for decaffeinated coffee is decaffeinated coffee is too processed and you just...There's not a lot—not only are you losing the caffeine but you're losing the polyphenols. I mean, that's my thought. Caffeine still could play a role there. Let's see. The results were not influenced by factors traditionally associated with melanoma such as UV light exposure, smoking or alcohol intake. So, there you go.

So, very interesting study. Twenty percent drop in melanoma risk for 4 cups a day but it had to be caffeinated, less processed. And, again, I don't know if we've even begun to figure this out. What is it about coffee? Which anti-oxidant is it? The chlorogenic acid that I mentioned before? Some researchers are saying it is the caffeine. There are some previous studies and one in particular I remember from a couple years ago because we were looking at this at Life Extension. Caffeine did block UV damage.

Now, it was cell culture studies. It was a lot of caffeine added to these cell cultures and then they were bombarded with UV light but there was some protection. So maybe, maybe. But, I think most experts believe that the benefit here is attributed to the numerous anti-oxidants found in coffee which includes caffeic acid, diterpenes, chlorogenic acid. Obviously, more research needs to be done. Coffee is good for you. It is.

Coffee is good for you. It's linked to certain anti-cancer properties beyond the skin as well breast, colon, prostate. So, it is good for you. You've got the sugar control with the chlorogenic acid so a couple of cups in this case 4 cups a day can be a part of a healthy dietary regime. One of the things that Maylin noted here and, remember, you can read this at Life Extension: "Not all coffees provide the same protection against disease simply because of the anti-oxidant content." You might think the deeper, stronger roast is going to be better.

It's deep and it's dark. It must be loaded with those anti-oxidants that's not true. Again the darker the roast usually means the longer the bean itself--the coffee bean—is actually roasted. Well, guess what? That's processing. So, it turns out that may be a lighter roast, not quite so strong which I guess takes me out of it because I like my strong cup of coffee, maybe two of them, in the morning. But maybe the more mild roast. I guess if you're a Starbucks fan of the blonde or whatever they call it—isn't there like a blonde brew that they have?

It's a little bit more mild. It might be a little bit better because there's less roasting, less processing and you're going to obtain more of those anti-oxidants. This time of the year, don't forget to make sure you get a lot of B Vitamins. Don't forget grapeseed extract is good for the skin, Polypodium leucotomus is a wonderful plant that you can use to block some UV light.

So, don't forget to protect your skin this time of the year. This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD.

I'm Dr. Mike.

Stay well.