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Coffee Perk? It May Cut Stroke Risk

Coffee may lower your risk of suffering a stroke, recent research indicates.

The National Institutes of Health study was done at the UCLA Stroke Center, The Early Show Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said Monday.

It "looked at 20,000 people, coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers," Ashton told co-anchor Julie Chen, "and found that those who drink coffee have fewer strokes and that stroke risk actually decreased the more coffee they drank."

The largest benefit was found among people consuming six or more cups of Java a day, Ashton pointed out, "a considerable amount," she noted.

Still, Ashton said in putting the findings in perspective, "This is one of those things we have to take ... in conjunction with everything else. This is one potential benefit and again, we know that there can be risks seen with the more caffeine that we consume. People are variably more sensitive or less sensitive to higher amounts of caffeine. So, it's just one piece of the puzzle."

Why might it be that coffee has that benefit?

"They're starting to look at it more," Ashton responded. "One of the theories is that there are antioxidants in coffee and tea ... that may be protective. But it also may be that there's something in coffee or caffeine that works synergistically or in conjunction with other factors and therefore prevents strokes. It's really evolving."

Something else that's unclear is whether caffeine in other types of drinks, such as soda, chocolate, and energy drinks, has the same effect, Ashton observed, adding that, "Right now, it's coffee and probably tea, as well."

Overall, Ashton says, "The possible benefits of caffeine or coffee consumption (include) decreased risk of Parkinson's disease, diabetes, helps control asthma, boosts our mood and potentially improves athletic performance. All of those things are in the win column.

"In the risky column, certain people can be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine (such as) pregnant women and anyone with a heart condition. It can increase our blood pressure in the short-term and increase our heart rate. So, we really want to use it with caution."

In an overview sent to CBSNews.com, Ashton embellished what she told Early Show viewers, saying, "It can definitely seem confusing to hear the latest scientific study about the pros and cons of coffee and caffeine. I look at this way: You have to take everything with a grain of salt (or a cube of sugar!)

"For the most part, the benefits of caffeine outweigh the risks when it comes to health, as long as it is consumed in moderation. Recent studies have found a positive association between coffee consumption and decreased risks of diabetes, Parkinson's disease and stroke, but the positive effects do not end there. For many years, physicians have known that caffeine plays a role in the management of asthma and treatment of headaches and, recently, researchers have found that caffeine can boost mood and concentration and improve athletic performance.

"The theories about why coffee sounds like a super-beverage are still evolving, but current thinking centers around some powerful antioxidants found in coffee, tea and chocolate (but probably not in sodas or energy drinks). In addition, caffeine in general is known to constrict the blood vessels in the brain (which explains its actions in treating headaches), and may also work synergistically with other elements in reducing the risk of the aforementioned conditions.

"For now, while certainly consuming very high quantities of caffeine can have significant negative consequences on your health (such as palpitations, increases in blood pressure, insomnia and dehydration), you should feel good about enjoying that cup of coffee or tea!"