Will Drinking Coffee Help Us Live Longer?

In May 2012 the New England Journal of Medicine released a large prospective cohort study hoping to identify as association between coffee consumption and total and cause-specific mortality.  Basically, does coffee consumption increase your chances of mortality (death) from all causes?  Also does coffee consumption correlate with increased or decreased likelihood of death from specific causes, like cancer, heart disease and stroke?

Coffee consumption is “generally” regarded as unhealthy commonly because of it caffeine content.  Coffee has also gotten a bad rap from its correlation with an increase in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and short term increases in blood pressure.  Because of these side-effects, coffee has been theorized to increase our risk of heart disease.  With heart disease topping the list of the most common killers it makes sense that coffee consumption would also then lead to an increased chance of mortality (death).

A few key points about this study:

  • Largest study on the topic.  400,000 subjects aged 50-71 and 52,000 deaths recorded from 1995-1996 when the surveys were handed in.
  • Data was obtained through a survey that participants filled out through the AARP
  • Consumption of fruits, vegetables, white meat, red meat, saturated fat, coffee and smoking habits were obtained among others variables.
  • BMI and physical activity levels were recorded
  • Subjects were grouped into <1 cups, 1 cup, 2 cups, 3 cups, 4 cups, 5 cups and 6+ cups of coffee per day.

In age adjusted analyses, coffee consumption was associated with increased mortality for men and women (Men and women who drank more coffee were more at risk for dying!). 

Case closed right?  Coffee is going to kill us all prematurely.  Well, not so fast.  Coffee drinkers also smoke more, drank more alcohol, ate less fruits and vegetables, ate more red more, were less educated and exercised less.  Seems like coffee drinkers are pretty unhealthy in general.  What the researchers did in this study was that they controlled for these variables.  They accounted for the increased risk of mortality based on these unhealthy lifestyle habits and then came up with some new statistics with very different outcomes.

  • As compared with men who did not drink coffee, men who drank 6 or more cups of coffee per day had a 10% lower risk of death, whereas women in this category of consumption had a 15% lower risk of death
  • There was a dose-dependent (More coffee = more benefit)  inverse association (more coffee = less risk of death) between coffee drinking and total mortality, after adjusting for potential confounders (smoking status in particular). 
  • Coffee consumption reduced your risk of death from most major causes (heart disease included) except for cancer (in men there was a small reduction but not in women).  *This seems to debunk the previous assumption that coffee may contribute to heart disease.
  • Caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee had the same benefit

* My own personal thought

This study is not showing us new information, the authors report that this information is consistent with other studies showing coffee’s effect on reducing death from diabetes, stroke and other inflammatory diseases.

This study shows that something is going on in coffee that we don’t understand fully.  The authors describe that coffee contains over 1000 compounds that may effect our risk of death.  At this point the authors of the study concluded that we can’t draw a cause and effect relationship between coffee and reduced mortality but it can guide future research as to why this is occurring.  I’m personally curious of the algorithm used to control for the negative health variables.  The statistics stuff confuses me greatly and I don’t know how the authors came to their conclusions, at least statistically.

I’m also not sold on the idea that the caffeine in coffee is going to kill me, especially given the inverse relationship between consumption and benefit (more is better).  It really seems more and more that coffee may be more of a health drink then anything.  Given some of the negative side effects of coffee and caffeine, the decreased risk of death from all causes seems to make up for those negative side effects.  I just polished off my second cup and I’m feeling good!   I’m curious about whether you guys have heard coffee is good or bad, please respond in the comments and let me know how much coffee you drink!

I just brewed another pot,

Dan Pope

P.S. If you guys enjoyed this please sign up for the newsletter on the top right part of the website (I promise, no spam, I hate spam as much as you do).  Also, liking the article and sharing it on facebook really helps as well.  I appreciate everyone reading and thanks again.

References:

Freedman, N. D., Park, Y., Abnet, C. C., Hollenbeck, A. R., & Sinha, R. (2012). Association of coffee drinking with total and cause-specific mortality. The New England Journal of Medicine, 366, 1891-1904. Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org.libproxy2.umdnj.edu/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1112010

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