Drink coffee, live longer?

Some positive science to report: drinking coffee keeps the Grim Reaper away-at lease for a while longer according to a new report in Science Daily (“Coffee Drinkers Have Lower Risk of Death, Study Suggests” 5/19/2012).

That headline may be a little misleading, as everyone’s risk of death is 100%. What SD’s report actually purports to show is that people who drink at least three cups of coffee a day live longer on average than people who don’t. So, that first cup in the morning, the 10 O’clock coffee break and the afternoon pick me up caffeine break are good for you.

The study was done by scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institutes of Health and also AARP. Although the NCI didn’t find any link between coffee drinking and cancer, their figures indicate that coffee imbibers are more unlikely to die from lung diseases, heart diseases, strokes, infections, diabetes – and even accidents and other injuries than those eschewing the bean’s beverage.

The full study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on May 17 of this year. 400,000 Americans of both sexes (ages 50-71) were followed from 1995-96 to the end of 2008 (or until they died during that time frame). SD reported that, “Relative to men and women who did not drink coffee, those who consumed three or more cups of coffee per day had approximately a 10 percent lower risk of death.”

Dr. Neal Freedman (PhD) of the NCI had this to say about the results that were found: “Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in America, but the association between coffee consumption and risk of death has been unclear. We found coffee consumption to be associated with lower risk of death overall, and of death from a number of different causes. Although we cannot infer a causal relationship between coffee drinking and lower risk of death, we believe these results do provide some reassurance that coffee drinking does not adversely affect health.”

There are some technical reasons that explain why a causal relationship is not being claimed. Namely, the study was conducted in a limited time period (13 years) so it says nothing about longer periods of time, and also, Dr. Freedman pointed out, “The mechanism by which coffee protects against risk of death – if indeed the finding reflects a causal relationship – is not clear, because coffee contains more than 1,000 compounds that might potentially affect health. The most studied compound is caffeine, although our findings were similar in those who reported the majority of their coffee intake to be caffeinated or decaffeinated.” 

This would seem to indicate that the protective power of coffee is not linked to caffeine – but nobody knows which of those over 1000 other compounds, or combination thereof, may be doing the trick. At any rate, it seems caffeine won’t hurt you and something in coffee is giving its devotees a 10 per cent edge over the non-coffee crowd in keeping the Grim Reaper at bay.

Photo: Espresso flows into a cup at a coffee house. Orlin Wagner/AP



Thomas Riggins
Thomas Riggins

Thomas Riggins has a background in philisophy, anthropology and archeology. He writes from New York, NY. Riggins was associate editor of Political Affairs magazine.