Studies Link Drinking Coffee With Reduced Risk of Death

A pair of health reports found that coffee drinkers appear to be at lower risk of developing diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Your morning eye-opener might help you keep those eyes open longer.

A pair of large-scale studies out Monday have found that people who drank more coffee tend to live longer than those who drink less. The research doesn’t necessarily mean coffee is good for you, but it suggests that it won’t hurt.

“The participants who reported drinking three or more cups of coffee per day seemed to receive the most benefit in terms of lowering the rate of death,” Marc Gunter, an epidemiologist at the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the lead author on one of the studies, says in a video accompanying the report. “This was particularly true for diseases of the digestive tract, but also for circulatory diseases.”

Gunter’s study is the largest to date, examining deaths among more than half a million people in 10 European countries. The other, conducted by the University of Southern California and the University of Hawaii, examined a population of about 185,000 people — most of them African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Latinos, making it the first study that looked at coffee drinking among large numbers of non-whites.

“What we found is that drinking more coffee is associated with reduced risks of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, respiratory disease, and stroke,” said USC epidemiologist Wendy Setiawan, the lead author on the second study. People who drank one cup of coffee a day saw their risk of death fall by about 12 percent; drinking up to three cups a day reduced their risk by about 18 percent, she said.

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Both studies were published Monday in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine, which is produced by the American College of Physicians. The European study found people who drank more coffee died from digestive and circulatory diseases less often, while the American study found a reduced risk for heart disease, cancers, stroke, and diabetes, among other conditions, among coffee drinkers.

The findings follow years of investigation into whether coffee is a health boon or hazard. The WHO took coffee off its list of potential cancer-causing agents in 2016, though it warned that extremely hot drinks could still pose a risk of cancer of the esophagus. Other studies have suggested drinking coffee might help stave off disease like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, or Type 2 diabetes. 

Coffee is a complex mix of compounds that include not just the stimulant caffeine, but polyphenols and antioxidants that have been linked to boosting the body’s metabolism. The brew includes chemicals that can improve liver function, reduce inflammation, and help the body break down sugars.

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Monday’s studies are based on people who reported their coffee consumption years ago, and the journal notes that their habits may have changed over the years. An accompanying editorial added other caveats, noting that coffee drinking is associated with other factors that might affect the results, including diet, economic status and behaviors like smoking, and it would be “premature” to recommend it as a health drink.

“However, it is increasingly evident that moderate coffee intake up to 3 to 5 cups per day or caffeine intake up to 400 mg/d is not associated with adverse health effects in adults and can be incorporated into a healthy diet,” the editorial states.

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