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Health Capsules: Dec. 13

A new large analysis of more than 200 studies has shown many potential health benefits of drinking coffee.

More research shows health benefits of drinking coffee

Over the past several years, coffee has gone from being a dietary villain to a potential hero. For decades, the hot beverage – which happens to be a daily necessity for hundreds of millions of people worldwide – was on an official list of foods considered to be possible contributors to cancer.  However, after many studies not only refuted this link but also showed that coffee may have protective effects against some cancers, the World Health Organization [WHO] officially lifted coffee from the list of potentially carcinogenic foods in a June 2016 report. It went on to designate coffee as potentially protective against cancers of the uterus and liver.

The WHO is not the only organization to include coffee on updated lists of foods that are probably harmless and quite possibly healthy. After a thorough review of the evidence, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, commissioned by the secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, declared that “moderate coffee consumption [defined as three to five cups per day] can be incorporated into a healthy dietary pattern.” The World Cancer Research Fund International also has concluded that drinking coffee is associated with a lower risk of several types of cancer.

Now, an analysis of more than 200 studies, conducted by researchers at the University of Southampton in the U.K., found that daily consumption of coffee is safe within limits of three to four cups a day, and that drinking coffee on a daily basis seems to have a protective effect on overall health.

The large analysis, which searched for studies investigating links between coffee consumption and any health outcome, again revealed considerable good news for coffee drinkers. Compared to those who drank either no or low amounts of coffee, drinking three to four cups a day was associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular death and cardiovascular disease. Drinking coffee also was related to a lower risk and incidence of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and liver cirrhosis.

Increasing coffee consumption above the three- to four-cup threshold was not linked to harmful effects, but the benefit was less pronounced, the researchers wrote online in The BMJ.

The analysis found no consistent evidence of any harmful associations between coffee drinking and health, with two exceptions: elevated risk of fractures in women and risks of negative outcomes in pregnancy. After adjusting the data for smoking, consumption in pregnancy was associated with low birth weight, pre-term birth and pregnancy loss.

Are ‘good’ gamers smarter?

Parents of teen gamers worried about the huge number of hours their kids spend parked in front of computer screens, take heart – British researchers have discovered a link between young people’s ability to perform well at two extremely popular strategy-based video games and high levels of intelligence.

In two studies, scientists from the departments of psychology and computer science at the University of York focused on “Multi-Player Online Battle Arenas” [MOBAs] –action strategy games that typically involve two opposing teams of five people – along with multi-player “First-Person Shooter” [FPS] games. The latter involve the two teams shooting enemies and other targets, with the players viewing the action through the eyes of the character they control.

Researchers first examined a group of subjects who were highly experienced in the MOBA game League of Legends, one of the most widely played strategic video games in the world with millions of avid followers. In this study, they found a significant correlation between higher performance in the game and higher scores on standard paper-and-pencil IQ tests.

The second study analyzed a large amount of data from thousands of players of four games: two MOBAs [League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients 2] and two FPS games [Destiny and Battlefield 3]. In this study, they also found that better performance in MOBAs is related to higher IQ scores, and that this relationship continues as the players get older. However, the same correlation did not exist for the FPS games, where player performance declined after the teens.

The researchers contend that the relationship between ability at action strategy video games and high IQ is similar to the correlation seen between intelligence level and skill at more traditional strategy games like chess. They also claim that using strategic gaming skill as a measure of intelligence could potentially open up a huge new data source. For example, the games could function as “proxy” tests of IQ at a global population level, since millions of people across the planet play them every day.

“This cutting-edge research has the potential for substantial impact on the future of the games and creative industries – and on games as a tool for research in health and psychology,” said study co-author and York professor Peter Cowling.

The York scientists stressed that their studies do not show that playing computer games actually makes young people smarter, but simply establishes a relationship between skill at playing these online games of strategy and intelligence. The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

On the calendar

Hula Hoop Fitness Fun, a free fitness class for families with kids over the age of 8, is offered from 1:30-2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17 at the Spencer Road Branch Library, 427 Spencer Road in St. Peters.  Join instructor Beth Foster for an evening of exercise and fun using hula hoops. Hula hoops will be provided, or participants can bring their own.  Space is limited. To register, call (636) 441-0794 or visit youranswerplace.org/ecalendar.

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A four-week Beat the Pack Smoking Cessation Program begins on Thursday, Jan. 4, and runs each subsequent Thursday through Jan. 25, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital’s Healthwise Center, 6 Jungermann Circle in St. Peters. This free program provides education and support to help smokers kick the habit once and for all. Light refreshments will be served. Registration is required by visiting bjcstcharlescounty.org or by calling (636) 916-9650.

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