Coffee drinkers likely to live longer

One of life’s simple pleasures just got a little sweeter.

3After years of waffling research on coffee and health — even some fear that java might raise the risk of heart disease — a big study finds the opposite: Coffee drinkers are a little more likely to live longer.

The study of 400,000 people is the largest ever done on the issue, and the results should reassure any coffee lovers who think it’s a guilty pleasure that may do harm.

“Our study suggests that’s really not the case,” said lead researcher Neal Freedman of the National Cancer Institute. “There may actually be a modest benefit of coffee drinking.”

Nobody knows why. Coffee contains many, many things that can affect health, from helpful antioxidants to tiny amounts of substances linked to cancer. The most widely studied ingredient — caffeine — didn’t play a role in the new study’s results.

It’s not that earlier studies were wrong. There is evidence that coffee can raise cholesterol, and blood pressure at least short term, and those in turn can raise the risk of heart disease.

Even in the new study, it first seemed that coffee drinkers were more likely to die at any given time. However, they also tended to smoke, drink more alcohol, eat more red meat and exercise less than non-coffee-drinkers. Once researchers took those things into account, a clear pattern emerged: Each cup of coffee per day nudged up the chances of living longer.

The study was done by the National Institutes of Health and AARP. The results are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Careful, though — this doesn’t prove coffee makes people live longer, only that the two seem related. However, with so many people, over a decade of follow-up and enough deaths to compare, “this is probably the best evidence we have” and are likely to get, said Dr Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study began in 1995. Of the 402,260 participants, about 42,000 drank no coffee. About 15,000 drank six cups or more a day. Most had two or three.

By 2008, about 52,000 of them had died. Compared to those who drank no coffee, men who had two or three cups a day were 10% less likely to die at any age. For women, it was 13%. Even a single cup a day seemed to lower risk a little: 6% in men and 5% in women.

Freedman can’t say how much extra life coffee might buy. Coffee drinkers were less likely to die from heart or respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, injuries, accidents or infections.

No effect was seen on cancer death risk, though.


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