Various health benefits of coffee drinking have been widely reported in recent years, including coffee’s association with a reduced risk of liver cancer and dementia. Now a new study, the largest of its kind, has found a connection between coffee consumption and longer life.
The study was conducted by researchers from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The researchers used data from the Multiethnic Cohort Study, a collaborative effort between Keck and the University of Hawaii Cancer Center.
Nearly 186,000 study participants between the ages of 45 and 75 completed questionnaires about their lifestyle, medical history, and diet – including how often they drank coffee. The health of the participants was then followed for an average of 16 years.
Study participants who drank one cup of coffee daily – caffeinated or not – were found to have a 12 percent lower risk of death from cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and respiratory disease (compared to those who never or rarely drank coffee). The risk of death from these conditions was even lower – 18 percent – for participants who drank three cups each day.
“It’s a complex topic, and it’s good to see such a large analysis,” says Colleen Symanski, a registered nurse, health coach, certified diabetes educator, and co-owner of A Healthier Me, a health and fitness studio on Vero’s barrier island. “There is no doubt,” Symanski continued, “based on other research, that coffee is a rich source of plant phenols, which most researchers believe is the primary reason for coffee’s health benefits.” Plant phenols are powerful antioxidants which can protect the body from cellular damage and diseases.
The association between coffee consumption and a longer life, which was recently reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, remained in place even after adjusting for factors such as age, gender, smoking status, and alcohol intake. The reduced mortality risk was found across the four ethnicities included in the study: white Americans, Latin-Americans, Japanese-Americans and African-Americans, and the team is confident that the results will also apply to other ethnicities.
Lead study author Veronica W. Setiawan is careful to say that the study does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between daily coffee consumption and longer life, but she believes the findings indicate the benefits of coffee-drinking outweigh any potential risks. “Some people worry drinking coffee can be bad for you because it might increase the risk of heart disease, stunt growth, or lead to stomach ulcers and heartburn,” she says. “But research on coffee has mostly shown no harm to people’s health.”
Vero’s Symanski stresses moderation and good choices. “For optimal well-being, I tell my clients to eat and drink a variety of healthy foods, and never rely on only one food or beverage source, as that can deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals. Fortunately, no one thinks they can exist on coffee alone.”
While consuming 24 ounces of coffee daily is considered moderate, certain coffee beverages have built-in health disadvantages. A plain cup of brewed coffee has less than 5 calories and no fat or carbohydrates, but many coffee shops offer concoctions that are far more like dessert than a morning pick-me-up. For example, Starbucks’ website describes a Caramel Cocoa Cluster Frappuccino® Blended Coffee as “Toffee nut syrup, blended with coffee then topped with caramel sauce, whipped cream and a mocha drizzle.” The “Grande” size (16 ounces) contains 450 calories, 17 grams of fat, and a whopping 71 grams of carbohydrates.
In addition to coffee, other high-phenol foods include:
- Fruits, especially berries. Apples, peaches, apricots, plums, pears, grapes and cherries are also good choices. Tip: the darker the fruit, the higher the phenol count. And eat the skins!
- Vegetables. Yellow onions are the best; artichokes, potatoes, red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, celery and broccoli also offer a good supply of phenols.
- Grains such as buckwheat, rye and oats. Foods containing these grains include breads, oatmeal, tortillas, pastas and cereals.
- Soybeans and other legumes, in the form of canned or dried beans or spreads. Add beans and peas to soups, salads and dips.
In the beverage category, Symanski also recommends green tea. Past studies have shown that long-term consumption of green tea could be beneficial against type II diabetes and could reduce the risk of coronary disease.
The researchers do note that people should apply caution when drinking coffee and other hot beverages, as a 2016 report from World Health Organization (WHO) linked the consumption of very hot drinks to an increased risk of esophageal cancer.
The National Coffee Association reports that about 62 percent of American adults drink coffee daily, with three cups being the average amount consumed; because of this, Setiawan says any positive effects from drinking coffee are far-reaching. She says, “We cannot say drinking coffee will prolong your life, but we see an association. If you like to drink coffee, drink up! If you’re not a coffee drinker, then you need to consider if you should start.”
A Healthier Me is located at 2855 Ocean Drive, Suite C-2 in Vero Beach; the phone number is 772-231-5555.