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Want to feel really good about drinking your coffee? Then read the latest headlines about the benefits of drinking coffee. According to those, a recent study has concluded that drinking coffee reduces the risk of dying. The study was another of the studies based on the information collected by two large research projects – the Nurse’s Health Study and the Health Professionals Study. Together the two studies involved over 84,000 women and 41,000 men, and followed participants for nearly 25 years.
According to Esther Lopez-Garcia, the lead author of the study, though various studies have taken a look at the various health effects of drinking coffee, there are none that looked specifically at the relation of coffee drinking and dying. This study was specifically designed to look at the rates of death among coffee drinkers and those who don’t drink coffee.
The headlines were rather startling, especially as they left out a key part of the study’s focus – it’s actual intent was to study whether coffee consumption led to a higher risk of mortality in middle-aged men and women. But if you read the headlines straight, one could be forgiven for thinking that coffee just may hold the secret to eternal life.
All fancy aside, the study did find that those who drink at least four cups of coffee a day were significantly less likely to die in middle age than those who don’t drink coffee at all. Drinking tea and caffeinated soda didn’t carry the same benefit. As far as specifics go, they found that those who drink coffee – either regular or decaf – were less likely to die of heart disease, especially if they also happen to be female. They also had an 18 percent lower chance of dying from something other than cancer or heart disease.
In order to be part of the study, participants had to have been free of both heart disease and cancer at the start of the two studies whose results were correlated. Those who were chosen to participate filled out questionnaires every two to four years about their drinking and eating habits, their smoking habits and health conditions. They also filtered out results based on exercise and other lifestyle habits. They then compared the frequency of death due to any causes, death due to heart disease and death due to cancer among people who drank coffee in different amounts.
What the researchers found was that those who drank coffee regularly were less likely to die during the followup period, mostly they said, because of the lower risk for heart disease among those who drank coffee. They found that coffee drinkers didn’t have a significantly lower chance of dying of cancer during that same period. And since the results held true whether the coffee was regular or decaf, it doesn’t seem to be caffeine that does the trick.
Of course, the results don’t mean that you can neglect your health if you drink coffee. The editors of the Annals of Internal Medicine, which published the study, warn that the way the study was designed make it impossible to say for certain that coffee decreases the chances of dying young. They may be something else about coffee drinkers that protects them – perhaps because they’re NOT drinking something else? There’s also a margin of error to be expected since the numbers are self-reported, and people aren’t always accurate about how much coffee they actually consume.
It does, however, offer food for thought, and a basis for further research that can examine more closely exactly what it is about us coffee drinkers that reduces the chance of dying young.