Drink Coffee, Cheat Death?

Drinking a second or third cup of coffee may do more than prevent you from wanting to destroy everything in your path help you get through the day – it may also reduce your risk of death from heart disease and other illnesses.

The Good News

A recent study found that people who regularly drank moderate amounts of coffee daily (less than 5 cups per day) experienced a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, neurological diseases, Type 2 diabetes, and suicide.

The study was published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, and the findings are based on data from three large ongoing studies: 74,890 women in the Nurses’ Health Study; 93,054 women in the Nurses’ Health Study 2; and 40,557 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.

Researchers assessed coffee drinking every four years using validated food questionnaires and followed participants for up to 30 years. During the follow-up period, 19,524 women and 12,432 men died from a range of causes.

After adjusting for a number of factors, including age, fitness level, body mass index, sugary beverage consumption, and smoking status, the researchers found coffee consumption was associated with lower risk for death from cardiovascular disease, neurological diseases, and suicide. Coffee consumption reduced overall risk by 9 to 15 percent.

Because coffee drinkers are more likely to consume alcohol and smoke cigarettes, the researchers repeated the analysis after eliminating smokers from the data pool. They found that nonsmokers who drank moderate amounts of coffee had a 15 percent lower risk for all-cause mortality.

Researchers didn’t find any statistical differences in rates of diseases among both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, suggesting it’s not just the caffeine that provides health perks but possibly the naturally occurring chemical compounds in the coffee beans. The study authors suggest that those compounds – including chlorogenic acid, lignans, quinides, trigonelline, and magnesium – may have an anti-inflammatory effect and reduce insulin resistance. Coffee is also a rich source of antioxidants and B vitamins.

Ming Ding, M.D., the study’s first author and doctoral student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, explains:

Bioactive compounds in coffee reduce insulin resistance and systematic inflammation. They might be responsible for the inverse association between coffee and mortality. However, more studies are needed to investigate the biological mechanisms producing these effects.

Study senior author Frank Hu, M.D., Ph.D., a Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard, added:

Regular consumption of coffee can be included as part of a healthy, balanced diet. However, certain populations such as pregnant women and children should be cautious about high caffeine intake from coffee or other beverages.

The researchers said the study was not designed to show a direct cause and effect relationship between coffee consumption and dying from illness, so the findings should be interpreted with caution. One potential drawback of the study design was that participants were asked to report how much coffee they drank, but the researchers found the assessment to be reliable.

While some studies have found inconsistent associations between coffee drinking and risk of total and cause-specific death, this study adds to the growing body of research that suggests moderate coffee consumption may offer health benefits.

The Not-So-Good News

Before you go downing three pots of java a day, keep in mind that at least one previous study suggested that too much coffee may actually be associated with increased mortality.

What you add to your cup o’joe matters too. If you dump 6 tablespoons of sugar or sugar-laden flavored coffee creamer into your mug – or if you regularly buy those fancy coffee shop sugar-bomb drinks – you probably can forget about reaping any of the health benefits that coffee offers. (If you don’t believe me, listen to Dr. Robert H. Lustig explain how sugar damages health in his informative lecture, Sugar: The Bitter Truth.)

A recent study showed that sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with an 18 percent increase in incidence of type 2 diabetes per one serving a day. And when the researchers adjusted for obesity, there was still a 13 percent increase over those who drank no sugary drinks. Artificial sweeteners aren’t off the hook either: studies have shown a link between their consumption and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes too.

But…there’s more Good News

If you love coffee and want to reap the benefits it offers but you can’t drink it black, don’t despair: Daisy Luther of The Organic Prepper has you covered. Check out her article 25 Homemade Coffee Creamers and Syrups for guidance on how to choose the best coffee and step-by-step instructions on concocting your own delicious homemade flavored coffees so you can play barista at home. Those fancy coffee shops ain’t got nothin’ on you.

About the author

Lisa Egan

Lisa is a researcher and writer who lives in the outskirts of D.C. She has a BS in Health Science with a concentration in Nutrition. Lisa has worked as a personal trainer and nutritionist and is a certified hypnotherapist. She enjoys helping people learn about how to improve their health.

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