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The Latest Coffee "Buzz" - Longer Life with Coffee

As if coffee drinkers needed another reason, one of life's simple pleasures for coffee drinkers just got a little "sweeter". The latest, largest study (by the National Institutes of Health and AARP) ever done - 400,000 people - finds that coffee drinkers are a little more likely to live longer, regardless of if you drink regular or decaf doesn't matter.  "There may actually be a modest benefit of coffee drinking", said lead researcher Neal Freedman of the National Cancer Institute.

Coffee contains a thousand things that can affect health, from helpful antioxidants to tiny amounts of substances linked to cancer, so now one really knows why. The most widely studied ingredient - caffeine - didn't play a role in this study's results.

This latest study is not saying that earlier studies were wrong. There is evidence that coffee can raise LDL, or bad cholesterol, and blood pressure at least short-term, which in turn can raise the risk of heart disease.  However, it must be considered that coffee drinkers in the studies also tended to smoke, drink more alcohol, eat more red meat and exercise less than non-coffee-drinkers. Once researchers took those factors into account, a clear pattern emerged: each cup of coffee per day nudged up the chances of living longer.

This doesn't prove that coffee makes people live longer, only that the two appear related. Like most studies on diet and health, this one was based strictly on observing people's habits and resulting health, so it can't exclusively prove cause and effect.

Wiith so many people and more than a decade of follow-up and enough deaths to compare, "this is probably the best evidence we have" and are likely to get, said Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Hu had no role in this study but helped lead a previous one that also found coffee beneficial.

This new study began in 1995 and involved AARP members ages 50 to 71 in California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Atlanta and Detroit. People who already had heart disease, a stroke, cancer or with diet extremes (too many or few calories per day) weren't included.  The study participants reported their coffee drinking habits once, at the start of the study. "People are fairly consistent in their coffee drinking over their lifetime," so the single measure shouldn't be a big limitation, Freedman said.  Of the 402,260 participants, about 42,000 drank no coffee, 15,000 drank six cups or more a day with most people had two or three.

Looking at mortality rates during the study - compared to those who drank no coffee, men who had two or three cups a day were 10 percent less likely to die at any age and women were 13 percent less likely. Even a single cup a day seemed to lower risk a little: 6 percent in men and 5 percent in women. The strongest effect was in women who had four or five cups a day - lowering their rish of death by 16 percent.  None of these are big numbers and Freedman can't say how much life may be extended with the consumption of coffee, especially because smoking is a key factor that affects longevity at every age.  The study does indicate coffee drinkers were less likely to die from heart or respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, injuries, accidents or infections. No effect was seen on cancer death risk.

Other research ties coffee drinking to lower levels of markers for inflammation and insulin resistance. Researchers also considered that people in poor health might refrain from drinking coffee and whether their abstention could bias the results. The study excluded people with cancer and heart disease - the most common health problems - to minimize this chance. Also, the strongest benefits of coffee drinking were seen in people who were healthiest when the study began.

About two-thirds of study participants drank regular coffee, and the rest, decaf. The type of coffee made no difference in the results.

Hu had this advice for coffee lovers:

  • Watch the sugar and cream. Extra calories and fat could negate any benefits from coffee.
  • Drink filtered coffee rather than boiled - filtering removes compounds that raise LDL, the bad cholesterol.

Researchers did not look at tea, soda or other beverages, however there are plans for future analyses.


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