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Coffee Drinkers Outliving Non-Coffee Drinkers, Study Suggests

Tim Boyer's picture

The results of a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that when it comes to mortality involving heart disease, lung disease, stroke, diabetes, infection and accidents that older coffee drinkers who drink either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee appear to be living longer than non-coffee drinkers.

The study looked at the mortality rates of 229,119 men and 173,141 women who were between the ages of 50 and 71 at the beginning of the study for a total of 5,148,760 people-years between 1995 and 2008. During that time 33,731 men and 18,784 women died.

What the data showed was that in an age-adjusted analytical model that included those who had a smoking habit, that the death rate was increased for coffee drinkers. However, after adjusting the model for tobacco-smoking and other known health factors that affect mortality, the data showed that coffee drinkers actually were living longer than non-coffee drinkers and that this inverse relationship was associated with deaths due to heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, stroke, accidents and injuries. When looking at cancer, however, an inverse relationship between coffee drinking and death was not seen—but may be increased slightly.

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"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," said lead author Neal Freedman, Ph.D., Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute. "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."

Why a causal relationship cannot be inferred is due to that their study design is not meant to identify the mechanism by which coffee might protect health. Coffee contains over 1,000 different compounds that could either singularly or together provide protection. Furthermore, it is not known whether the way coffee is prepared—brewed, pressed or espresso—makes a difference.

The take-home message is that their results support earlier studies that show that there appears to be no difference between drinking caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee when it comes to worrying whether drinking caffeinated coffee is less healthy than caffeinated coffee. In fact, studies have shown in the past that caffeinated coffee—at least at moderate levels—is actually better for lowering the risk of and benefiting people with Type 2 diabetes and may lower the risk of gallstones and liver damage in people at a high risk for liver disease.

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile

Reference: “Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality” New England Journal of Medicine 2012; 366:1891-1904; Neal D. Freedman, Ph.D., Yikyung Park, Sc.D., Christian C. Abnet, Ph.D., Albert R. Hollenbeck, Ph.D., and Rashmi Sinha, Ph.D.