Who doesn’t enjoy a trip to Starbucks or another coffee shop that serves freshly brewed coffee? And coffee lovers may be doing something good for their health. At one time, people thought coffee increased the risk of health problems, including cardiovascular disease and pancreatic cancer. However, more recent studies show otherwise.
In fact, research reveals that sipping coffee in moderation may lower the risk of a number of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease, gallbladder disease, depression, and type 2 diabetes. Although some of these studies are preliminary, it’s likely coffee is not harmful in moderate quantities for people who are otherwise healthy and may have health benefits instead.
The Surprising Health Benefits of Coffee
Research shows people who consume between 3 and 4 cups of coffee daily have a lower risk of dying of cardiovascular disease and a reduced risk of some forms of cancer. These are some of the most common causes of death in Western countries. Plus, drinking coffee is correlated with a reduction in markers of inflammation, an underlying factor in most health conditions.
You also hear a lot about the potential health benefits of antioxidant-rich foods for health. Are vegetables the best source of antioxidants in the Western diet? Not by a long shot! Coffee has that distinction because a cup of Joe serves up a variety of antioxidants and people consume more coffee than vegetables.
It’s reassuring that coffee may lower the risk of chronic health problems, but what impact does it have on longevity? Do coffee drinkers live longer? Let’s looks at what science shows about coffee drinking and mortality.
Coffee, Risk of Death, and Longevity
A study carried out by the National Cancer Society is enough to make coffee drinkers rejoice. Researchers used a questionnaire to measure coffee consumption among 400,000 middle-aged and older men and women. After documenting the subjects’ coffee drinking habits, researchers followed the participants for 13 years.
At the end of the study, they looked at the outcome of the participants. What they found was the risk of dying dropped with every additional cup of coffee they drank each day. For example, the risk of mortality dropped by 6% in those who drank one 8 ounce serving of coffee daily, while the odds of death fell by 16% in those who drank five 8-ounce cups of coffee each day. Beyond 5 cups per day, there were no additional longevity benefits. Did the preparation of the coffee make a difference? It didn’t matter whether the subjects drank caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee or whether they added sugar or milk. The benefits held.
One thing to note is this is an observational study; it doesn’t show cause and effect. Because it relies on recall by the participants of how much coffee they drank, it’s less reliable than a randomized controlled study where scientists control how much coffee the subjects drink each day. People are notoriously bad at remembering how what they ate or drank a few days ago or last week and a 13-year randomized controlled study of this nature would be hard to do. However, the mortality rate declined in a dose-dependent manner, the more coffee the subjects drank up to 5 cups daily, the larger the drop in mortality. That adds credibility to the study.
How Coffee Might Reduce Mortality
It’s one thing to say that coffee may help you live longer, but why? Science suggests that coffee lowers the risk of chronic health problems, like type 2 diabetes, which leads to an early death, but are the benefits coming from caffeine or some other factor? The antioxidant content of coffee may explain some of the health perks. Coffee contains more than 1,200 bioactive compounds, many of which have antioxidant activity. Antioxidants help fight oxidative stress that damages tissues and contributes to chronic health problems and aging.
A Word of Warning
Although these results are encouraging, it doesn’t mean you should drink all the coffee you want. People break down the caffeine in coffee at varying rates. Some are slow metabolizers and others metabolize caffeine quickly. If you break down caffeine slowly, it stays in your system longer and you’re at higher risk of side effects.
Some research even suggests that slow metabolizers are at a greater risk of heart attack if they drink large quantities of caffeine, over 2 cups per day. You can find out whether you’re a slow metabolizer by taking a genetic test. If you’re not a slow metabolizer and are otherwise healthy, drinking up to 5 cups of coffee per day may offer health benefits, but talk to your physician before consuming that amount.
The Bottom Line
Coffee is an enjoyable beverage for many people, and for some, it may have health and longevity benefits. But if you suffer from anxiety or insomnia, drinking more than a cup or two per day may not be wise. Also, monitor your blood pressure if you drink a lot of coffee. Caffeinated coffee can cause a short-term rise in blood pressure, especially if you’re not accustomed to drinking it.
Start slow with drinking coffee too. Don’t try to drink 5 cups if you’re not a regular coffee drinker. Also, if you have an elevated LDL-cholesterol, stick to filtered coffee. Unfiltered coffee contains compounds that can raise LDL. If you have problems sleeping at night, avoid consuming caffeine after the early afternoon. Also, avoid adding sugar as it can undo some of the health benefits.
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