Controversial Studies Suggest Coffee Drinkers Live Longer

Controversial Studies Suggest Coffee Drinkers Live Longer
George Dvorsky

Coffee drinkers, rejoice.
Two new studies are linking our favorite hot beverage to a decreased chance of being
killed by heart disease, cancer, a stroke, and more.
So, does this mean we can start drinking coffee with reckless abandon?
We spoke to the experts to find out, and not surprisingly, the answer is complicated.

People who drink coffee appear to live longer, according to a pair of studies published
today in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The studies—which involved hundreds of thousands of participants across a diverse set
of ethnic groups—showed that folks who drink at least one cup of coffee a day were
12 percent less likely to die of diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
This effect jumped to 18 percent among people who consumed two to three cups per day.
Importantly, these associations held true for participants who drank either caffeinated or
decaffeinated coffee
which would seem to imply that caffeine has nothing to do with it.

But to say that these studies close the case on coffee, so to speak, would be taking it too far.
The researchers weren’t able to identify a causal relationship, nor were they able to explain
why coffee appears to confer these health benefits.
And importantly, some experts are challenging the conclusions reached in these two studies,
saying the results were misleading, and that blanket statements about coffee consumption
ignore the fact that, for some, caffeine is dangerous.

Regardless, the new studies offer substantial findings given the stigma associated with coffee
consumption, and the fact that an estimated 2.25 billion cups of this delicious beverage are
consumed each day around the world.
Coffee has previously been linked to bladder cancer, increases in the risk of heart disease,
stomach ulcers, and heartburn—yet little evidence exists to support these largely debunked claims.
And in fact, quite the opposite appears to be the case.

One recent meta-study linked coffee consumption to a reduced risk of liver and uterine cancer.
Evidence is also mounting that coffee may protect against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s.
These findings sure seem promising, but skeptics have argued the jury’s still out on coffee, pointing to
deficiencies in the research methods, such as a focus on specific ethnicities, or failing to follow-up with study participants.
The two new analyses provide some of the most compelling evidence yet in support of coffee’s purported health aspects.

Image: Steve Snodgrass/Flickr

In the first study, a research team from the University of Southern California found that higher coffee
consumption was linked to lower risk for death in both white and non-white populations—an important
finding given that different ethnicities have different lifestyles and disease risks.
Coffee consumption amounting to two to three cups a day, for example,
was associated with a reduced risk of death due to heart disease (21 percent decrease),
cancer (8 percent decrease),
stroke (27 percent decrease),
diabetes (23 percent),
and respiratory (10 percent) and
kidney disease (41 percent).

Crucially, these findings were generalizable across cultures, including African-Americans, Japanese-Americans,
Native Hawaiians, Latinos, and whites.
Health effects were observed in all of ethnicities studied.

Data came from the Multiethnic Cohort Study, a collaborative effort between the University of Hawaii Cancer
Center and the Keck School of Medicine that involves more than 215,000 participants.
Every five years, participants fill out questionnaires about their diet and lifestyle, along with family and personal
medical history information.
The average follow-up period is 16 years.
When analyzing the data, the USC researchers adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, smoking habits, education,
pre-existing disease, physical exercise, and alcohol consumption.

“This study is the largest of its kind and includes minorities who have very different lifestyles,” said Veronica Setiawan,
lead author of the study, in a statement.
“Seeing a similar pattern across different populations gives stronger biological backing to the argument that coffee is
good for you whether you are white, African-American, Latino or Asian.”

Among coffee drinkers, reduced mortality rates were present regardless of whether participants drank caffeinated or
decaffeinated coffee.
So, whatever is causing the added longevity appears to have nothing to do with caffeine.


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