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Magic Beans? Major Study Links Coffee to Longevity

Updated on June 6, 2012
Drink up! Coffee drinking is linked with longer life.
Drink up! Coffee drinking is linked with longer life. | Source

About that Ongoing Coffee & Health Debate...

What’s the verdict on coffee and health? Like an overworked Denny’s waitress with coffee pot in hand, scientific opinions about coffee drinking and health go back and forth, here and there, too many times to count. Still, the most recent “big report” is welcomed by coffee addicts and their dealers alike. A study published in the May 17, 2012 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine concludes that indulging in several cups of coffee daily could help you live longer.

The National Cancer Institute found that coffee drinkers had lower risks for heart disease, stroke and other fatal health conditions.
The National Cancer Institute found that coffee drinkers had lower risks for heart disease, stroke and other fatal health conditions. | Source

An Overview of the Coffee Study

Basically, researchers monitored 400,000 people's coffee consumption over 14 years and took note of deaths. Women who reportedly drank coffee had a 15% lower risk of dying during the study than the other women did. Men who reportedly drank coffee had a 10% lower risk of death during the study than men who didn't. Participants were ages 50 through 71 at the start of the study.

Drinking at least two cups of coffee per day – regular or decaf -- was associated with a lower risk of death in categories such as heart disease, diabetes and respiratory problems. Deaths from accidents also were lower among the coffee drinkers, possibly because of their enhanced alertness. Drinking four cups of coffee or more per day seemed to protect against deaths from stroke and infection.

How much is too much? That question wasn't asked.

Decaffeinated coffee is sometimes chemically treated. Look for coffee that's decaffeinated through the Swiss water method.
Decaffeinated coffee is sometimes chemically treated. Look for coffee that's decaffeinated through the Swiss water method. | Source

Is this Coffee Study Valid?

Apparently independently of any coffee cartel’s influence, this study was conducted at the respected National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, MD. The data were collected over 14 years and represent 42,260 participants, which means that this is the largest scientific study yet of coffee and health.

Factors besides coffee drinking, such as tobacco smoking, meat consumption and fruit consumption were accounted for. Still, Dr. Neal Freedman and the other investigators acknowledge that this study only shows correlations, not causation.

People known to have serious health conditions were excluded from the study.

An Organic Coffee Farm

US investors tour an organic coffee farm in Honduras. Shade from the tall trees helps control weeds naturally.
US investors tour an organic coffee farm in Honduras. Shade from the tall trees helps control weeds naturally. | Source

Regular or Decaf?

Decaffeinated coffee appears to provide the same health benefits as regular coffee in the present study. That’s not so surprising; coffee is known to contain more than 1,000 components in addition to caffeine such as chlorogenic acid, quinic acid and niacin.

Still, remember that the decaffeination process could bring exposure to harmful chemicals. It's possible to extract most of the caffeine without chemicals by using the Swiss water process, but it's more common to use chemicals such as trichloroethylene, methylene chloride and ethyl acetate. This makes decaffeinated coffee a poor beverage choice for pregnant women and maybe everyone else too.

Another health concern is that decaffeinated coffee is often made from fattier beans – and their fat isn’t the good sort. Thus when preparing decaf coffee it’s especially important to use a filter. Compared with a French press, a cloth or paper filter will remove more oils that contribute to cholesterol problems.

Remaining Questions about Coffee & Health

Many questions about coffee and health are outstanding. Here are just a few:

  • Organic coffee - Health-conscious coffee drinkers might be curious about organic coffee. Does drinking an herbicide-free and pesticide-free coffee bring added longevity? The answer seems like a no-brainer but studies haven't been done.
  • Sugar in coffee - Given the association of sugar with cancer, weight gain and other health issues, at what point does a sugary specialty coffee become more harmful than helpful?
  • Coffee and hormones - Participants in the NCI study were all aged 50 or older. Younger people might have different experiences with coffee, either good or bad, partly because coffee is known to interact with estrogen and androgens. One example is that coffee consumption has been shown to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer among obese women by moderating their estrogen levels. (See the links below for more info.)

You can see a free overview of the NCI’s coffee health research paper at the New England Journal’s website, http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1112010. Here are some additional scholarly links about coffee and specific health issues.

Comments

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    • profile image

      Open 

      3 years ago

      I just started tankig my 2-a-day two days ago and so far I'm impressed. I already eat pretty clean (lots of greens, no sugars or caffeine) and work out 3-5 days a week. I was nervous because I already do the good diet and exercise that it wouldn't work for me but I was wrong. I've noticed that I have a ton more energy without the crash and without the elevated blood pressure that I would get if I drank a coffee. I normally eat six times a day and I'm having to almost force myself to eat breakfast and lunch. I'm excited to see what the next 30 days has to offer.

    • kj force profile image

      kjforce 

      6 years ago from Florida

      SantaCruz...been busy trying to keep up with all those who follow me, not enough hours in the day...I likes you HUB ..there are so many variations on what we eat/drink..one day it's this next day it's that..coffee has been given a bad wrap of and on for years..caffeine is a stimulant that helps many people althoug it should be without cream/sugar to gain the benfits..

      thank you for explaining the pro's and con's..well researched and written...

    • profile image

      Hilary 

      6 years ago

      I'm gonna live forever! Thanks for another informative and fun to read article.

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