The Coffee Conundrum

By Dirk Hanson 04/12/11

The Good News: Recent studies suggest that heavy coffee drinkers are less prone to suffer strokes. The Bad News: Women who drink four cups a day are more prone to incontinence.

The good, the bad, and the leaky.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

Java in a cup—so simple, and yet so baffling to scientists. Do you take it black or white? Two coffee studies last week--one good, one bad. Good news first: A study of more than 81,000 Japanese men and women linked heavy coffee drinking to a 23% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease. So did an earlier study at Harvard, in which women who drank two to four cups a day had a 20% lower risk of stroke than women who only drank the odd cup. However, this doesn’t prove that coffee alone is responsible for the drop, as the LA Times points out. “People who drink coffee are different in many ways from those who don’t drink coffee,” explains a USC researcher. Still, stroke risk was lowest among people who drank the most coffee. A cuppa Joe won’t do. Now the bad news: A survey published in the Journal of Urology (never a good sign) shows that women who drink four or more cups of coffee a day—the same magic number that produces the mysterious decrease in stroke risk—suffered an increased risk of, yes, that’s right, urinary incontinence. Though the risk was small—2.7% of high-caffeine women developed frequent “urine leakage” over the next four years, compared to 1.9% for the low-caffeine group—it was still a 20% increase in leaky bladders, when other factors were accounted for. Women are twice as prone to this condition as men.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]