Coffee Protects Against Stroke, Study Says

More good news for coffee lovers. A new study from Finland strongly suggests that smokers who drink coffee may be more protected from stroke than their counterparts who don’t drink coffee. The report, published in the June 2008 issue of Stroke magazine, found that Finnish smokers who drank at least 8 cups of coffee a day had a 23% lowered risk for a type of stroke called a cerebral infarction and those who drank at least two cups of black tea a day had a 21% reduced risk of that type of stroke than those who drank little or no tea or coffee. The study was conducted in such a way as to account for other risk factors like a history of heart disease.

The study’s authors’ suggested that some of those benefits may arise from the antioxidant health benefits of coffee and tea. Coffee drinking has been associated with a lowered risk of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction – dysfunction of the cells that line the insides of blood vessels. Coffee may improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. In the words of the study’s author:

“Beneficial effects of consumption of coffee and tea with regard to risk of cerebral infarction are biologically plausible because coffee and tea contain phenolic compounds with antioxidant properties that may prevent atherosclerosis.”

In other words, it makes sense that coffee could be good for you because coffee contains compounds that are known to be antioxidants, and antioxidants are known to be good for you.

The subjects of the study were 29,133 participants in a randomized double-blind primary intervention trial originally meant to determine whether alpha-tocopherol or beta-carotene, or a combination of both, could reduce the incidence of cancer in male smokers. All of the men were between 50 and 69 years of age and smoked at least five cigarettes a day, and had no history of stroke. They were recruited into the study, which ended in 1993, between 1985 and 1988.

Each of the participants completed questionnaires about general background characteristics that included their coffee and tea drinking habits. Most of the men used filtered coffee or boiled their coffee. The original researchers also measured height, weight, blood pressure, BMI and cholesterol levels (both HDL and total).

The current researchers followed up on the participants and included all strokes that occurred from the start of the study until 2004. In the 13 years period, there were 2,702 cerebral infections and about 600 strokes of different types.

They found that those who drank coffee, tea or both were at significantly less risk of cerebral infarction, though there was no difference in their risk for other types of stroke.

The study authors made the point that the study only included male smokers, so the difference in risk may not hold true for women or for non-smokers.