It's the news all Starbucks addicts were waiting for: Coffee is good for you - and researchers at Stanford now think they know why.
There's already research showing that coffee drinkers tend to live longer than those who abstain, and the new study from Stanford's School of Medicine found that people who consume caffeine reduce their risk of developing an inflammatory process that typically occurs with age.
"More than 90 percent of all non-communicable diseases of aging are associated with chronic inflammation," David Furman, the study's lead author and a consulting associate professor at the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection, said in a press release.
Heart disease, Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, osteoarthritis and even depression are some of the diseases associated with this type of inflammation.
The study, published in Nature Medicine, analyzed survey data, blood samples, medical histories and family histories for over 100 participants from a multi-year program started nearly a decade ago. They compared data from healthy people aged 20-30 years old, with people aged 60 and over, and observed that this inflammatory process was much more likely to occur in the older group.
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It was also confirmed that this type of inflammation is a trigger for heart disease and overall increased mortality rates. "Those in whom the inflammatory-gene activity was highest turned out to be much more likely to have high blood pressure, to have other signs of cardiovascular disease, and to die sooner than the ones with the lowest levels of activity in these gene groups," said Bruce Goldman, a science writer from Stanford Medicine's Office of Communication.
Metabolites, or the breakdown products of nucleic acids circulating in our blood, can cause this inflammation. "When [researchers] injected these breakdown products into mice, the mice developed massive systemic inflammation and high blood pressure," Goldman said.
The good news is that something can prevent these breakdown products from causing inflammation: caffeine. The metabolites in caffeine are actually quite similar to the nucleic-acid metabolites in our own genes and can act as inflammation blockers.
"Our findings show that an underlying inflammatory process, which is associated with aging, is not only driving cardiovascular disease but is, in turn, driven by molecular events that we may be able to target and combat," said Mark Davis, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford, in a release.
The study looked at two different groups of older participants: one with high levels of the inflammatory gene clusters and one with low levels. Of the people who were 85 or older in 2008 when the study began, those with low levels of inflammation were much more likely to still be alive in 2016.
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The largest variable between the high inflammation group and the low inflammation group was their caffeine consumption. The group with low inflammation reported the highest caffeine intake.
"That something many people drink - and actually like to drink - might have a direct benefit came as a surprise to us," Davis said. "What we've shown is a correlation between caffeine consumption and longevity."
While this is certainly great news for coffee lovers, non-coffee drinkers can still get the benefits of caffeine in other forms. Some of the people with low inflammation reported drinking tea instead of coffee, and eating dark chocolate.
"All caffeine is the same. A molecule of caffeine doesn't care where it came from," Goldman told Seeker. "It's identical to any other molecule of caffeine. But coffee has the most of any beverage we tend to drink [and] coffee drinkers live longer."
Goldman said that while he, as well as the researchers, would not readily dole out medical advice, the study's obvious conclusion is that caffeine consumption is beneficial. "The inference... is more caffeine is better, without any demonstrated upper limit," he said.
"Of course, in the real world it's also nice to get some sleep, not have to pee 50 times a day, and be able to stand still. So, be your own judge."
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