Is coffee drinking the answer to longevity?

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Studies link moderate coffee habits to lower death risks

 The answer to a longer life might be at the bottom of your coffee cup. Recent articles published in the Annals of Internal Medicine show that increased coffee drinking may decrease risk of death.

But how you take your coffee is an important distinction in knowing what can have health benefits.

“I hesitate to encourage folks to drink more coffee, since most people load it with cream, sugar and syrups,” said Jill Frank, APN, and lead of Seton’s Integrative Therapies Program. “Drinking a caramel frappuccino every day will definitely impact your health, but not in a good way.”

Frank said instead of consuming sugary add-ins with your coffee, try it black instead.

“Many recent studies have pointed to the benefits of coffee,” said Ryan Ince, MD, Seton Family of Doctors Plus Express Care. “I’ve read about cancer and liver damage prevention. This study looks to further support that,”
he said.

Seton is part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.

Researchers studied data from two studies of 705,000 adults total in which participants answered questions about their coffee drinking habits. After following up after about 16 years, researchers found that when compared to non-coffee drinkers:

  • Drinking more coffee was linked to a lower risk for death in all 10 European countries.
  • Higher coffee intake was associated with lower risk for death in Blacks, Japanese Americans, Latinos and whites.
  • The coffee drinking benefits were the same for caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee.
  • Three or more cups of coffee each day significantly reduced participants’ risk of death, especially for digestive circulatory diseases.
  • Coffee drinking reduced the risk of death from seven of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. including: heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease.

The two studies were the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) made up of more than 520,000 men and women from 10 European countries and the Multiethnic Cohort (MEC), which included more than 185,000 Blacks, Native Hawaiians, Japanese Americans, Latinos and whites. Both studies adjusted for risk factors such as smoking.

The power of the bean

If reaching for coffee is the first thing you do each morning, and even several more times throughout the day, you aren’t alone. According to the studies, 2.25 billion cups are drunk worldwide each day, making coffee one of the top beverages of choice in both the U.S. and the world.

A growing body of research, including a recent American Heart Association study, has shown that steady coffee drinkers have a lower risk of dying from problems such as heart disease, diabetes and even suicide.

How are those little beans so powerful? An editorial published with the two studies suggests that though the exact mechanism of how coffee reduces the risk of death isn’t clear, many compounds in coffee with protective antioxidant properties may be responsible.

“Drinking coffee could have health benefits because it can help reduce inflammation, which many chronic diseases are linked to,” Ince said.

Ince points out that coffee drinking habits were assessed only once in the studies, and more research is need to determine cause and effect. According to Ince, for most healthy adults, three to five cups per day or caffeine intake up to 400 mg, coupled with proper diet and exercise could be a part of a healthy lifestyle.

If you aren’t a coffee drinker but think you might become one for protective health benefits, not so fast. More studies are needed before recommending coffee drinking for those who don’t already drink coffee.

The buzz on caffeine

“Caf” or “decaf”? According to the study, it may not matter. Both studies show health benefits for both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, but Ince says it’s important to know how caffeine can impact your health.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, too much caffeine can cause problems, like make you jittery and dehydrated. Too much caffeine can also make it hard to fall asleep and cause headaches, nervousness or dizziness.

Each person is affected by caffeine differently. Pregnant women are at even greater risk, and should talk to their doctor about safe amounts of caffeine during pregnancy.

Not all coffee is created equal

While you may not have to choose between regular or decaf, researchers noted more information is needed on how the coffee is made, which may affect composition and effectiveness of potential benefits.

Customization can make a coffee drink order a mouthful, sounding something like, “half-caf, venti, four-pump, cinnamon dolce latte, extra hot, extra whip.” With all of the extras available, Frank says it’s important to be aware of all that goes into your cup of Joe.

Bottom line: Keep it simple and splurge for those extra add-ins with moderation.