What was bad news is now good news for coffee drinkers – at least in most cases. Earlier findings seemed to indicate coffee might raise the risk of major diseases, but new studies point to the benefits of coffee. According to more recent research, a little java not only doesn’t hurt, it can help prevent some diseases.

Studies now show coffee is not a factor in heart disease and cancer; it may actually lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, gallstones, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Why the change regarding the benefits of coffee? Most early studies focused on caffeine, and some – such as the one that seemed to show female coffee-drinkers had a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) than non-drinkers – failed to account for other risk factors, such as smoking, diet or alcohol consumption. Today’s research takes these factors into account is looking beyond caffeine to evaluate other substances in coffee, including antioxidants that help protect cells in the body against damage.

When it comes to RA, though, there is a bit of lingering uncertainty about coffee health benefits. A 2002 study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) showed no connection between regular coffee and the onset of RA, but did find that four or more cups of decaf per day increased the risk for older women. But Ted Mikuls, MD, a rheumatologist who conducted the study, notes that, in 2004, researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston found no connection between RA and either variety of coffee.

The jury’s still out on coffee benefits and osteoporosis, too. Caffeine can cause your body to absorb less calcium, but so far, studies haven’t established whether drinking coffee contributes to bone loss. These studies suggest that you’d have to drink four or more cups a day (without milk) to risk harm.

Before you dust off your French press, there’s one more thing to consider: These studies all focus on factors affecting onset, not post-diagnosis issues. There may, for example, be interaction between caffeine and methotrexate, says Dr. Mikuls; research shows conflicting results.

Sarah Morgan, MD, and a registered dietitian at UAB, gives this advice: “My only guideline is moderation in caffeine intake,” she says. For most people, drinking one to two cups of coffee – decaf or regular – per day seems safe.