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Beware the dark side of coffee

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Research shows that coffee can lower your risk of skin cancer and help protect your liver. But if you’re not careful, coffee may wreck your health.

A study at the University of South Carolina shows that if you drink more than four cups of coffee a day, you are at an increased risk of dying prematurely.

The study analyzed the health and coffee-drinking habits of more than 40,000 people and showed that heavy coffee drinking increases the risk of early death by 21 percent. It also demonstrated that it is more dangerous for younger people: If you are younger than 55, four cups of coffee a day increases your risk for premature death by a whopping 50 percent.

Today, 60 percent of Americans drink coffee and the average consumption is a little more than three cups per coffee-drinker. That comes out to about 400 million cups of coffee consumed daily in the U.S.

Coffee contains a complicated selection of thousands of natural chemicals. Studies show that for many people it is the main source of dietary antioxidants and can improve brain function while lowering aspects of inflammation. But the caffeine in coffee can increase your body’s secretion of epinephrine, interfere with insulin and make you more prone to hypertension.

“Thus, all of these mechanisms could counterbalance one another. Research also suggests that heavy coffee drinkers may experience additional risk through potential genetic mechanisms or because of confounding through the deleterious effects of other risk factors with which coffee drinking is associated,” write researchers Junxiu Liu, and Xuemei Sui who are both with the Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, “Therefore, we hypothesize that the positive association between coffee and mortality may be due to the interaction of age and coffee consumption, combined with a component of genetic coffee addiction.”

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