Coffee May Actually Be Part of a Healthy Diet

Cup of Coffee

This cup of coffee may not be so bad for the health after all, according to new research.

For many, a cup of coffee is the only way to start their day. Some new research suggests coffee-drinkers have a reason to keep sipping the brewed bean beverage as moderate coffee consumption is linked to less chance of death from various causes.

The study comes from Frank Hu, MD, of Boston’s Harvard School of Public Health and his colleagues, published in Monday’s issue of the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation. The researchers analyzed data from 160,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and Nurses’ Health Study 2 and 40,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. The data was from the mid-1980s and early 1990s to 2012, lasting about thirty years in total with follow-ups every four years.

For the study, the researchers looked at the amount of coffee consumed by participants, according to their self-reported numbers. The researchers defined moderate coffee consumption as five cups a day or less. They also looked at death from various causes, with 19,524 women and 12,432 men dying during the studies. Researchers adjusted for factors such as age, body mass index, fitness level, how many sugary beverages they consumed, and whether the participants were smokers, to help isolate the effects of coffee consumption.

When the researchers compared those that drank five cups a day or less to those who did not drink coffee, they found that the coffee drinkers were about nine to fifteen percent less likely to have died during the follow-up period of the study, depending on whether they were also smokers. The moderate coffee drinkers were less likely to die from suicide, heart disease, and neurological disease. However, deaths from cancer did not seem to be linked with coffee consumption.

The researchers speculate that in the case of neurodegenerative disease, depression, and suicide, the caffeine in the coffee likely plays a role. However, for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, those that drank caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee seemed to have similar mortality rates. This suggests that compounds in the coffee other than caffeine may be providing benefits to the study participants. Coffee contains B vitamins and antioxidants, as well as chlorogenic acid, lignans, quinides, trigonelline, and magnesium. The researchers speculate that these coffee compounds may have an anti-inflammatory effect and may reduce insulin resistance. However, more studies would be needed to confirm these potential benefits.

The data suggests that those who drink moderate amounts of coffee should go ahead and keep drinking their daily brew. However, they should watch the amount of sugar and other additives they put in their drink because those could have negative health consequences. The researchers point out that while drinking coffee seems to reduce the chance of death, the effect is actually small. The study does not mean that those who do not normally drink coffee should rush out and take up the habit. Drinking more than four or five cups of java a day did not seem to help mortality rates, so those already consuming moderate amounts of coffee should not up their intake.

Other studies had previously found that too much coffee could have negative health consequences. Those drinking too much coffee regularly could experience insomnia and anxiety, and may even experience disruptions in their circadian rhythm. Another study had also linked drinking four cups of coffee a day to a higher mortality rate in men. Since the current study looked at medical professionals who are mainly caucasian, it may not reflect the effects of coffee in a wider population. More studies would be needed to confirm the effects of coffee consumption in different groups.

While the study’s results may be encouraging to those who enjoy coffee daily, they may not be a reason to change coffee habits. More research is needed before doctors can recommend a coffee a day to keep the grim reaper away.

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