By ELIZABETH LIU Senior Staff Writer
Coffee is usually the go-to drink when you’re gearing up for a long night of homework and studying. But the beverage may have more benefits than just getting you through a long day — a new study suggests that drinking coffee can also reduce the risk of a number of chronic health conditions, leading to a longer and healthier life.
The study, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, was performed at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Mass.
The researchers analyzed data collected from three large, ongoing studies: the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study 2 and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. The participants ranged from 25 to 75 years in age during the start of the three large cohort studies.
The researchers used these large cohorts to collect data from more than 200,000 individuals, making it one of the largest studies ever to investigate links between mortality and coffee consumption.
Participants in the three cohorts were asked to complete comprehensive food questionnaires every four years, and the Harvard researchers followed the cohorts for up to 30 years. During the follow-up period, 19,524 women and 12,432 men had died from a variety of causes.
After adjusting for a number of different factors, including age, physical activity levels, body mass index and sugary beverage consumption, the researchers discovered that people who drank a moderate amount of coffee — about one to five eight-ounce cups per day — were less likely to die from heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, neurological disease and suicide than were people who were not moderate coffee drinkers.
These benefits hold true for either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee, which suggests that naturally occurring compounds in coffee beans besides caffeine, such as riboflavin, potassium, magnesium and other minerals and antioxidants, could be providing these health perks.
‘The researchers speculate that these other compounds could play a role in improving insulin sensitivity, reducing chronic inflammation and acting as antidepressants.
High coffee consumption — drinking more than five cups of coffee per day — on the other hand, did not seem to provide more health benefits and had little to no significant influence on mortality rates.
The researchers also observed that, generally, people who were frequent coffee drinkers were also more likely to smoke and drink alcohol.
By separating smokers from never smokers and analyzing the data again, the scientists found that, for never smokers, the benefits of coffee on reducing the risk of death by heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, neurological disease and suicide became more prominent. In other words, smoking seemed to mask the benefits of coffee consumption.
While the regular consumption of coffee can be included in a healthy diet, the researchers do not recommend that people start drinking coffee solely as a preventative measure to avoid certain diseases. Individuals who are sensitive to the effects of caffeine, such as children and pregnant women, should be wary of consuming too much coffee.
Though the researchers found a correlation between coffee consumption and lower mortality rates, studies conducted in the past have found inconsistent results between coffee drinking and the risk of both total and cause-specific death.
For instance, some previous studies suggested that coffee can help burn fat, lower the risk of Parkinson’s and drastically improve physical performance, while others found little to no significant correlation.
This newest study adds to the growing literature regarding coffee and mortality, but the researchers admit that more research needs to be done in order to draw stronger conclusions about the effects of coffee on the body and whether different types of coffee (decaffeinated or caffeinated) have distinct health effects.