Coffee is awesome! It wakes you up in the morning and warms you on those cold winter days. The aroma of brewing coffee is comforting, enticing, and stimulating all on its own. Coffee is made from roasted coffee beans that are actually the seeds of the red berries found on the Coffea plant. While we may all enjoy a cup of coffee, the real star of the show is often caffeine. Caffeine is the compound that gives coffee its ability to wake you up and make you alert. It is the drug of choice for most of the world and can also be found in chocolate, tea, cola, energy drinks, and even in pill form. In addition to caffeine, coffee also contains polyphenols that have been suggested to have antioxidant properties and other compounds that may impact inflammation and insulin sensitivity. Over 50% of people in the US drink coffee daily and most people drink on average 3 cups per day. Our society is fuelled by coffee.
With so many people drinking coffee daily and consuming it by the cup load, scientists have wondered about the health effects of our java addiction. Studies have identified that coffee consumption can lower a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes and that this effect gets larger the more coffee a person drinks. Up to 6 cups a day was associated with a person being 1.5 times less likely to get type 2 diabetes. Coffee consumption was also associated with a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, risk of liver disease , and risk of suicide . In opposition to this, one study suggested that the risk of suicide actually went up when coffee consumption went beyond the moderate range (4-6 cups a day) into the excessive range (8 or more cups per day). What about overdosing? Can you die from too much coffee? The average person would need to drink 69.5 cups of coffee per day in order to over dose . That’s not likely, but what about your risk of dying over the years?
Recently, a study published in the journal Circulation, found that coffee consumption was associated with decreased risk of pre-mature death (by any cause). The researchers looked at historical data about coffee consumption from three cohorts and collected information about coffee consumption from a questionnaire. They then looked at how likely each person was to die based on how much coffee they had consumed (between 0 and 6 cups). What they found was the for the group as a whole, people who drank moderate amounts of coffee (3-5 cups per day) had a lower risk of pre-mature death but people who drank more than 5 cups per day had a higher risk of pre-mature death. The researchers thought that smoking might be mucking up their results so they removed the variable of smoking from the model and found that the risk of dying prematurely decreased in a linear fashion the more coffee someone drank. That is to say a person who didn’t smokes and drank 2 cups of coffee was less likely to die pre-maturely than a person who drank 1 cup and a person who drank 5 cups was less likely to die than a person who drank 4 (and so on). Based on this result, it is safe to say that the health benefits of coffee consumption are minimized when that person also smokes. As an example, a person who smokes and drinks 5 cups of coffee a day were no more or less likely to die at any time from any cause than someone who smokes but doesn’t drink coffee. However, if a person drank 5 cups of coffee per day and didn’t smoke they were 22% less likely to die at any point from any cause than those people who had never drank coffee (smoking or not).
The researchers also found that coffee consumption was associated with decreased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and neurological disease. It was interesting that it didn’t matter whether the coffee was caffeinated or decaffeinated, people who drank more coffee and didn’t smoke were less likely to die pre-maturely regardless of the caffeine content. This suggests that caffeine is not the Now it is important to note that this study is observational and so it cannot give us details about cause and effect and that the majority of the study population was in the health care profession and so the results may not be generalizable to the greater population as a whole. However, since these types of results have been shown in the past by other studies, it does suggest that the effect we are seeing is real. We now just need to figure out what it is in coffee that is helping us live longer.
The long and short of the study is drink your coffee to enjoy it, to wake you up, and to help you live longer. Just be sure to do it without your cigarettes as they will mess everything up. Also remember, this was a study about coffee consumption not caffeine consumption. So drinking more red bull or more grande white chocolate mochas will not give you the same effect. In fact, with all that added sugar they are likely to give you diabetes and not prevent it.
Photo Credit: “A small cup of coffee” by Julius Schorzman