February 19/London/The Express -- Drinking just two cups of coffee every day can reduce the risk of a stroke by almost 20%, according to new research.
A study of 83,000 women over 24 years showed coffee-lovers were much less likely to have a clot on the brain.
The finding surprised researchers who had set out to investigate reports that the beverage increased the likelihood of a stroke.
A review of their results, published in the journal Circulation, says, "Longterm coffee consumption was not associated with an increased risk of stroke in women. In contrast, it may modestly reduce the risk."
It is thought any benefits would probably apply to men too. However, the study team stressed that coffee only protected against illness in those who were relatively healthy.
Other research has found that drinking four cups of coffee a day in middle age could protect against Alzheimer's disease, cutting the risk of developing it by two thirds.
Strokes kill around 200 people every day in the U.K., with many more left disabled and living in fear that a second or even third attack could be fatal. Previous studies have shown that coffee can protect against gout, memory loss, liver disease and even some cancers.
In the latest research, experts at the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain, found that the more coffee the women drank, the lower their risk.
Those who had five to seven cups a week saw their risk lowered by 12%. In those consuming two to three cups a day, the reduction was 19%, and for those on four or more daily, it was 20%.
Researchers suggested that it was unlikely that the protection came from caffeine in coffee. Dr Esther Lopez-Garcia, who led the study, said, "Antioxidants in coffee can lower inflammation and improve blood vessel function."
Joanne Murphy, of The Stroke Association, said, "Excess caffeine intake is believed to contribute to high blood pressure, the single biggest risk factor for stroke.
"Therefore, we recommend moderate consumption of coffee as part of a healthy balanced diet to help reduce the risk of stroke."
From the February 16, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition