Monday, July 23, 2012

Good news for coffee addicts like me: coffee may extend life, prevent disease

Photo: Sally Kneidel
I've always regarded my coffee addiction as a vice. What good is java? It stains teeth, fuels anxiety, contributes to insomnia...  And I've always wondered about its connection to various diseases. I've never been able to figure that out. I know my OB told me no more than one cup a day when I was pregnant, without really saying why.

But outside of pregnancy, I've persisted with coffee in spite of its issues - simply for love of the brew. The taste of good coffee is as pleasurable as chocolate or a fine red wine. And the caffeine buzz was irresistible - until sleep issues gradually forced me to switch to mostly decaf. Even sans buzz, I still love the hot stuff.

Results of massive medical study surprised me

Given my years of guilty pleasure, I was a little startled to see recently a major new article in the New England Journal of Medicine suddenly suggesting the health virtues of coffee. After reading it, I wondered if I should not only continue my "vice," but abandon all restraint! Yes, bring on the joe and bring it right now!!

This exciting and novel study followed the health and coffee habits of more than 400,000 people over a median of 13.6 years! That is a huge study. With numbers like that, the results are "very powerful" and are unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon,says Johns Hopkins cardiologist Roy Ziegelstein. Not only very powerful, but very convincing.

The scientists documented the longevity of participants, excluding anyone who had cancer, heart disease, or strokefrom the outset. The researchers also accounted for differences such as smoking, alcohol intake, diet, and body mass - assuring that these factors did not affect their conclusions.

Drinking coffee reduced the chance of death

Unexpectedly, the researchers found that drinking coffee reduced the likelihood of death from heart disease, repiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections! Drinking coffee did not reduce the likelihood of death from cancer.

Over the 13.6 year duration of the study, participants who drank 2 or more cups a day were 10% to 16% less likely to have died than those who abstained. Women who downed 6 cups a day or more had a 15% lower risk of death than those who drank no coffee! Men drinking 6 or more cups per day had a 10% lower risk of death over the course of the study.

Who can drink 6 cups a day? Not me. My stomach couldn't take it. But good news anyway! Among the study's participants, drinking more than 2 cups a day lowered the risk of death from heart and respiratory disease and from diabetes. Four or more cups a day improved resistance to infections.

Decaf has same benefits!

Here's the part that I really liked, given my reluctant drift toward decaf. The researchers concluded that caffeine is not a big player in coffee's apparent health benefits! Decaf had about the same association with improved longevity as caffeinated coffee! Yay!

Am I recommending that you drink coffee?  No, I'm not an M.D.  But it's food for thought.  To read more about the study, check out this Science News summary.

Keywords: coffee longevity study coffee benefits coffee health