Contrary to popular myth, giving up coffee is not likely to improve your health. The opposite might be true: Years of research suggest coffee consumption is linked to a lower risk of death.
The latest addition to this body of research was published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study looked at around 120,000 people in the UK who regularly drank unsweetened or sweetened coffee for seven years. The results suggest that those who drank 1.5 to 3.5 cups a day had a lower risk of death over those seven years than non-coffee drinkers, even if they added a teaspoon of real sugar – no artificial sweeteners – in every cup.
Overall, people who drank unsweetened coffee were 16 to 21 percent less likely to die during the study period than people who drank no coffee at all, according to the results.
But the researchers didn’t look at causation, so they couldn’t say whether the coffee was directly responsible for the result.
“Biologically, it is plausible that coffee may indeed confer direct health benefits,” said Dr. Christina Wee, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Wee edited the study and wrote an accompanying editorial about the results.
But she added: ‘We cannot say for sure that it is coffee consumption per se that leads to a lower mortality risk.
It is possible, for example, that people who regularly drink coffee are wealthier and therefore more likely to have better health care or more time for leisure or fitness than non-coffee drinkers. which could reduce their mortality risk.
A spoonful of sugar does not negate the benefits of coffee
Participants in the new study were around 56 years old on average, and they were recruited from 2006 to 2010. Researchers took into account factors such as diet, smoking, socioeconomic status, pre-existing health conditions and exposure to air pollution.
The results suggest that people who drank sweetened coffee were 29-31% less likely to die than non-coffee drinkers – a slightly greater risk reduction than seen in people who drank unsweetened coffee, although only within the same range.
The study found inconclusive results for people who drank coffee with artificial sweeteners; nor did she look specifically at people who added milk or cream.
Wee said the results don’t suggest it’s healthier to add sugar to your coffee than to drink it plain.
“My greatest caution is not to equate this with ‘Oh, I can drink any type of coffee with a lot of calories,’ because there are other studies that clearly show that adding sugar and levels high empty calories is not good for you, so do it in moderation,” she said.
“What this study really says is that adding a little sugar doesn’t negate all of the potential health benefits that coffee might have,” Wee said.
“Not harmful, maybe a little beneficial”
An association between coffee consumption and a lower risk of death is well established: a 2019 analysis found that drinking two to four cups a day reduced a person’s risk of death compared to people who did not drink. no coffee. Another analysis suggested that drinking three to four cups a day reduced the risk of dying from heart disease compared to no coffee altogether. The same research found that coffee consumption was associated with a decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease, chronic kidney disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
But experts haven’t determined why coffee is associated with these benefits.
Some research has suggested that the antioxidants in coffee may reduce inflammation and reduce disease risk, but the link is far from certain.
And other research has linked coffee to certain negative health effects. A 2015 study found that drinking one to four cups a day was associated with an increased risk of blood clots, but the reverse was true for people who drank five or more cups a day. A review from last year, meanwhile, found that boiled coffee was correlated with increased ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, while filtered coffee did not have the same effect. Caffeine can also increase blood pressure in the short term.
Recent research is far from definitive, Wee said. She also noted that some lifestyle factors associated with coffee drinking can be unhealthy: “You work long hours and have to stay awake all the time, or you’re stressed and have deadlines.”
Because of this, Wee said, “I’m more confident that we can say drinking coffee is probably not harmful, maybe a little beneficial.”
“If you don’t like coffee, I wouldn’t force you to like it,” she added.