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  health > men > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Coffee may reduce risk of gallstones in men


June 8, 1999
Web posted at: 4:01 p.m. EDT (2001 GMT)

(CNN) -- For millions of people the day doesn't begin until they've had their first cup of coffee. The caffeine in coffee has been associated with an increase in energy and alertness, and now a study says it may help reduce the risk of gallstones in men.

Researchers found men who drank regular coffee -- filtered, instant or espresso -- had a lower risk of gallstone disease.

"We found that men who drank two to three cups of coffee per day had about a 30 to 40 percent reduction in risk of gallstone disease -- and for men who drank four or more cups per day, the risk was cut in half," said Dr. Walter C. Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health.

The 10-year study, published in the June 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, followed 46,008 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. The participants included dentists, veterinarians, optometrists, osteopathic physicians and podiatrists ages 40 to 75, with no history of gallstone disease.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston looked at the association between coffee consumption and the risk of symptomatic gallstone disease.

"The inverse association between coffee intake and gallstone disease may be due specifically to the effect of caffeine," the authors wrote.

Though researchers said they do not know exactly why caffeine lowers the risk of gallstones, they have some theories.

"There is quite a bit of evidence that coffee or caffeine itself will increase the contraction of the gallbladder and reduce the chance for stones to build up. And also, coffee or caffeine tends to make it less likely that crystals form in the gallbladder, which is the beginning of a gallstone," Willett said.

While women, who are at greater risk for gallstones, were not included in this research, study authors believe women too can benefit from coffee.

"We of course have to look at this in women, but for the moment there's no reason to believe that the results wouldn't apply to women as well," said Willett.

Coffee has been considered unhealthy, but Willett says that reputation may not be deserved.

"There have been many concerns raised about caffeine, but with the evidence that's coming over the last few years, the concerns about cancer and heart disease tend to have been pretty much dismissed," Willett said.

But coffee is not completely harmless. Caffeine is a stimulant, and too much can cause restlessness or nervousness as well as affect heart rhythms and elevate blood pressure.

Doctors are not ready to recommend coffee for prevention of gallstones. More studies are needed to assess the therapeutic benefits. For now, the study authors say, coffee intake should be based on each individual's health risks.

Medical Correspondent Steve Salvatore contributed to this report.

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Journal of the American Medical Association
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