11 July 2016

Coffee, tea and cancer – is it time for a re-think?

Over the years, most who take nutrition seriously for prevention and as a cancer therapy have advocated for no coffee, no tea, no caffeine. But is this correct? New research challenges the proposition and points to some surprising conclusions.

Highly referenced, this may be a post to share as so many drink tea and coffee and the facts have been rather murky of late.

So this week, we go Out on a Limb once more to examine the history and the evidence, but first

                Thought for the day

The most accurate thing we can say
About the future
Is that however we are experiencing things right now,
They will change


First lets examine caffeine as a cause of cancer, then we can consider treatment possibilities. There are some surprises coming…

Read some articles in the popular press and caffeine seems to be great for preventing cancer. Go to a site like caffeineinformer.com and they list 10 positive studies, concluding coffee is the anti-cancer wonder drug!

They then cover themselves by saying “while the coffee/cancer research isn’t definitive, it does reveal that drinking coffee is probably far more beneficial than harmful as long as the person can metabolize caffeine correctly and doesn’t suffer from a caffeine allergy or from excessive use.”

Moderate consumption is put at 4 – 5 cups a day, which for some of us might seem to be quite a lot.

However, selecting a few positive studies that support your argument is not the same as reviewing all studies, so let us look a little closer.

1. Coffee and decaf

For a long time, since 1991 in fact, coffee was officially classified as a possible cause of cancer.

However, the International Agency for research on Cancer (IARC) which is part of the WHO, has recently reviewed the current evidence and suggested that moderate coffee drinking is not associated with an increased risk of cancer at the majority of body sites. Put simply, they concluded that coffee is non- carcinogenic.

This research suggests the possibility that coffee drinking may actually help reduce risks for cancers of the liver and uterine endometrium, and increase risks of lung and bladder cancers, but in general the effects if any are concluded to be minor.

Reference : The Lancet Oncology

However, get this… Another big study published in 2004 concluded “consumption of caffeinated coffee, tea with caffeine, or caffeine itself was not associated with incidence of colon or rectal cancer, whereas regular consumption of decaffeinated coffee was associated with a reduced incidence of rectal cancer”!

So if you have switched to decaffeinated coffee, you may well be reducing your cancer risk!

Reference : Michels KB Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 97, No. 4, © Oxford University Press, 2005. 

2. Tea 
More than 2,000 studies have found little or insufficient consistent evidence to suggest common tea consumption increases the risk of any cancer. Overall, drinking tea is more likely to be beneficial than harmful with regard to cancer risk, although the risk appears to be reduced only slightly.

Reference Click here

3. Green tea 
We hear a lot of suggestions that green tea is special and amongst its many health promoting properties it can help prevent cancer. However, a major review of 51 studies with over 1.6 million participants conducted by the Cochrane Reviews concluded that no firm recommendations could be made regarding green tea consumption for cancer prevention.

They suggest that while there is no clear evidence of benefit, drinking a moderate amount of green tea (up to 3-5 cups daily), is unlikely to cause harm.

Reference Boehm K, Borrelli F, Ernst E, Habacher G, Hung S, Milazzo S, et al. Green tea (Camellia sinensis) for the prevention of cancer.

4. Very hot drinks
Judging by another recent major review, there is some evidence that drinking extremely hot beverages (above 65°C) is unhelpfully irritant and probably causes oesophageal cancer. The degree of this risk is still not clear, but best take your drinks on the cooler side.

Reference  IARC. Carcinogenicity of drinking coffee, mate, and very hot beverages. The Lancet Oncology. 2016. 

Is caffeine part of the cure or does it make matters worse?
Depends who you ask. Pretty well all the people who have worked intensively with nutrition as a therapy for cancer recommend avoiding all caffeinated drinks. This recommendation has been based upon what is described as clinical experimentation, or clinical observation. These specialists believe there are better outcomes when caffeine is avoided.

Disappointingly, when it comes to hard science, this is another area of nutrition where there is little research published. Of note, however, is a study published last year that was the first to examine an association between caffeinated coffee and the risk of colon cancer recurrence.

Strong findings! It seems coffee may be associated with significantly reduced cancer recurrence and death in patients with stage III colon cancer. This research found that 4 cups of coffee a day halved the risk of the disease returning – and increased the chance of survival by a third. Of note, common tea and decaffeinated coffee were not associated with positive benefits.

How could this be? One theory is that caffeine consumption increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin so less of it is needed, which in turn may help reduce inflammation – a well known risk factor for cancer. Scientists believe that the positive benefits were entirely due to the caffeine and not other components of the coffee.

Reference Coffee Intake, Recurrence, and Mortality in Stage III Colon Cancer: Brendan JG et al, JCO, 2015, 61, 5062

Of course, a healthy lifestyle generally cuts inflammation dramatically and so does meditation, so would you receive extra benefits from adding caffeine to that package? Personally, I very much doubt so.


1. For prevention
Caffeine is a strong social drug.

Rapidly absorbed it has a multitude of effects including those on energy levels and wellbeing. People respond to it differently – some are super sensitive – and it can be addictive. Many experience significant withdrawal symptoms when they go without it for a day or two.

So if you are interested in a more natural lifestyle; and on balance, I am firmly of the view that being caffeine free is preferable. Maybe the occasional cup is OK, but I prefer for myself and those I support to use herb teas and things like dandelion coffee. It seems current decaf drinks are mostly OK.

2. When recovering from cancer
Here again I feel fairly clear. If you happen to have stage 3 bowel cancer, maybe you take the evidence of the one study to date and have 4 cups of coffee a day. Research would definitely be on your side.

However, if it were me, I would put more confidence in a healthy lifestyle. Anything the oral caffeine is likely to offer, my sense is the healthy lifestyle would do just as well if not better. And there would be no potential downside.

I continue to recommend being caffeine free through treatment and while recovering.

3. The special case of coffee enemas
We cannot avoid the elephant in the room.

It is easy to make fun of coffee enemas and several scare campaigns have been run by no doubt well meaning folk. However, many remarkable long-term survivors I have known have said they felt coffee enemas were a significant contributor to their recovery.

This “anecdotal” evidence is hard to ignore. Personally, I would love to see a proper trial done evaluating the outcome of coffee enemas – but I suspect it will be wise not to hold my breath. Pity really, as this is such a politically incorrect issue, yet one that seems to have helped many.

If you want information on how they might work, refer to my book You Can Conquer Cancer.

There are better things to drink than caffeinated ones.



Mind-body Medicine and Cancer
Eight days specifically designed to help everyone affected by cancer.

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    Understand the Mind-Body connection and how we can use this to accelerate healing and to build long lasting peace of mind

    A full review of therapeutic nutrition with all the latest findings

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This program is organized and proudly supported by Canlive, a New Zealand cancer charity.

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FLIER      Click here

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This evidence-based program forms the Next Step in the on-going series of follow-up residentials at the Yarra Valley Living Centre. A wonderful opportunity to meet with like-minded people once again, to consolidate what you already know, to continue to learn more, to reaffirm your good intentions, and to go home refreshed and revitalised.

This program has been specifically designed for those affected by cancer who have attended a previous program with the Gawler Foundation, Ian and Ruth,
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  1. The problem with most studies is they are based on the average person...Who is toxic, has poor digestion, poor elimination, does not exercise, is mentally stressed, and Spiritually suffering. And today about 75% of them have an incurable chronic disease (a medical science opinion), And they are taking at least one medical drug with its side effects. And about 70% are overweight, and 35% are obese. In other-words science is basing their studies on a disastrous human mess! So you might actually say (tongue in cheek) that coffee may help people that are that messed-up?
    ---We do know that coffee kills about 1/3 of our friendly bacteria. And over time does a nice job of tanning our digestive system. So for the person who is not an average mess, and takes care of their body and mind, coffee is not a good idea. But caffeine, I would like to see a study of caffeine's effect on healthy people before making a decision there?

    Dr. Paul Blake, N.D.

  2. Thanks Ian This is good. Couldn't agree more with everything which you have written. I saw the photo of your retreat and though that it was of Lake Burley Griffyn and Canberra! Come visit us. We have clean air, fresh water and people live longer by a few years than elsewhere in Australia. Not sure why but we certainly follow the healthy lifestyle approach and are introverted in how we live. Chars

  3. It is an interesting one. I have always thought that both the coffee and tea plants are just herbs, and unless I hear some conclusive evidence that they are really toxic I will indulge in them moderately if I want to.
    Of course we know that caffeine is a nerve stimulant. A few times in my coffee drinking career I have had coffee late in the day, or two cups, and it had affected my sleep. Buzzing and couldn't sleep.
    Since the evidence about other effects on the body is weighted more towards positive effects than any negative, I am happy to to have one good coffee and sometimes one tea (has to be nice tasty stuff) per day. And never in a way that would make it hard to sleep. I like my sleep too much for that.
    All the best

  4. For years I've been trying to give up coffee. Every time I would have some withdrawal symptoms when I stopped drinking coffee. Finally, since March I have given it up. I have been drinking hot chocolate occasionally. I did have a cup of coffee last week. one cup and it took me ages to get to sleep. I can't speak for other people but I know in my case I feel more relaxed - I sleep more deeply. Everytime I've stopped drinking coffee I've found that I might get headaches, constipation but eventually my body starts to relax. I start to look different. For me I feel there are a lot of benefits from not drinking coffee - certainly not having coffee every day. I only used to drink a cup a day - but that was probably too much for me.

    1. I hear this form many people katy - hard to give up, numerous symptoms when they do, feel heaps better once it is out of the system. But then, for many it seems the addiction could be in part due to the stimulating effect the coffee has -"I need it to keep going". That is why meditation is helpful - it gives a way of restoring energy that does not have caffeine's side-effects.
      Well done you - good choice :)