You’ve probably heard of the many benefits of drinking coffee. There is no shortage of studies confirming the benefits of one (or two or three) cups of joe every day. Some of the benefits studied include reducing the risk of:
Parkinson’s diseaseType 2 diabetesHeart diseaseProstate cancerMelanomaDepression and suicideCirrhosis of the liverLiver cancer
But did you know that coffee can also extend your life? Scientists behind a new study recently announced this.
So, what’s so special about coffee? How is it able to reduce our risk of dying from so many diseases? Let’s dive in.
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What we know about coffee
Coffee is actually a complex mixture of over 1,000 different chemicals. It can be challenging for scientists to determine which of these compounds provide the health benefits of coffee. In fact, coffee has had a checkered past. Some of the many chemicals have been identified as possible carcinogens – in 1991 the World Health Organization even put coffee on a list of possible carcinogens. However, Coffee was subsequently acquitted and removed from that infamous list.
Coffee is believed to be beneficial through the following mechanisms:
Anti-inflammatory Decreased insulin resistance High levels of antioxidants that may prevent or slow cell damage Lignans, which interfere with the growth and spread of cancer cells Chlorogenic acid, which lowers blood sugar
What does the research show?
The latest study in the Annals of Internal Medicine analyzed the coffee consumption habits of more than 170,000 people in the UK aged 37 to 73 and followed them for an average of seven years. Researchers found that those who drank between 1.5 and 3.5 cups of coffee a day were 16 to 21% less likely to die from all-cause, cancer-related and cardiovascular disease-related deaths during the study period than non-coffee drinkers.
But this isn’t the first study to look at the reduction in mortality from regular daily coffee consumption. A study published in 2015 in the journal Circulation followed more than 200,000 participants over 30 years. Those who drank 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day were 15% less likely to die from all causes of death, including cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease and suicide. A more recent survey in 2018 followed more than 500,000 participants over 10 years. Compared to non-coffee drinkers, participants who drank 6 to 7 cups daily had a 16% lower risk of premature death.
In all studies, the benefit was enjoyed by those who drank both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee — again, suggesting that the benefit comes from the myriad of bioactive compounds in coffee, as opposed to caffeine.
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Association does not necessarily mean causation
The main conclusion of all these studies is that the data show a link between daily coffee consumption and a reduced risk of death. But we must remember that a correlation between two things – in this case coffee and reduced mortality – does not necessarily mean that there is a direct cause. What we don’t really know is how much of the reduction in mortality is from the coffee itself, despite its known myriad of benefits and this strong association.
There are many other so-called confounders that can influence this data. What I like about this new study, however, is that researchers have explained possible confounders by controlling for factors such as smoking, the presence of chronic medical problems, socioeconomic status, and diet.
This new study matches the findings of a 2019 meta-analysis – one of the strongest evidence-based research studies available. This meta-analysis examined 40 different studies with 3.8 million participants. Researchers found that moderate coffee consumption (2 to 4 cups per day) was associated with reduced all-cause mortality compared with those who did not drink coffee. This benefit was observed regardless of age, weight, alcohol or smoking consumption, and the amount of caffeine in the coffee.
But we must remember that participants in a coffee-drinking study may have many other lifestyle factors that contribute to lower mortality, such as a healthier diet or regular exercise. For example, researchers hypothesize that regular coffee drinkers are more likely to opt for a cup of coffee versus a more sugar-heavy caffeine boost from an energy drink or soda.
The bottom line is that the new study is consistent with multiple studies showing a strong association between moderate daily coffee consumption (more than 1 cup/day) and reduction in death from many causes. If you already drink coffee daily – decaf or decaf – great! However, it is not a substitute for daily exercise and a healthy diet! If you get your caffeine from energy drinks or soda, consider switching to a cup of joe — but choose not to add a lot of sugar or whipped cream to your coffee, or you could reduce the benefit.
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Michael Daignault, MD, is a board-certified ER physician in Los Angeles. He studied Global Health at Georgetown University and received a medical degree from Ben-Gurion University. He completed his residency training in emergency medicine at Lincoln Medical Center in the South Bronx. He is also a former United States Peace Corps volunteer. Find him on Instagram @dr.daignault