Drink Up, Ladies!

For all those ladies out there who were worried about their coffee consumption, there’s good news. A recent study at Universidad Autonoma de Madrid found that there are some small but very real benefits to drinking coffee.

This isn’t the first time that scholarly studies have reported on the health effects of drinking coffee. Over the past several years, there have been a number of studies released, many of them suggesting that coffee may have some health benefits, and more than a few pointing out drawbacks of sucking down America’s (and the world’s) favorite beverage.

This study, however, is one of the largest to date. Led by Esther Lopez-Garcia, the study followed over 84,000 women and more than 41,000 men from 1986 to 2004. The female participants were mostly nurses, and the males mostly doctors, dentists and other health professionals. The population-based study compiled self-reported information from surveys that were filled out by the participants. The researchers compiled information on participants who drank both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, and correlated that information with deaths due to heart disease and cancer.

The results? The study found that drinking up to six cups of coffee a day was not associated with increased deaths among the middle-aged participants. Furthermore, those who reported drinking coffee on a regular basis were less likely to die of heart disease than those who don’t drink coffee. The decline in deaths from heart disease was more marked in women than in men.

Women who reported drinking 2 to 3 cups of caffeinated coffee per day had a 25% lesser risk of dying of heart disease than women who didn’t drink coffee at all. The coffee-drinking men in the study also saw a decline in deaths from heart disease, but it was much smaller and, according to the researchers, not statistically significant. Decaf drinkers in both genders also saw a slight decline in overall mortality, but there was no clear-cut definition as there was for the caffeinated coffee drinkers. They did find, however, that drinking coffee was also associated with an 18% decrease in overall mortality in women.

The researchers did not find an association between coffee drinking and cancer deaths. Lopez-Garcia said, “Our study indicates that coffee consumption does not have a detrimental effect. It seems like long-term coffee consumption may have some beneficial effects.”

Participants completed questionnaires about how much coffee they drink, their smoking habits, other dietary habits and other medical conditions. The data was adjusted for smoking, known health conditions and other dietary factors before the final figures were tallied. None of the participants in the study had known heart disease or cancer at the start of the study period.

Because decaf drinkers also showed a reduction in overall mortality risk, the researchers speculate that caffeine is not the only significant factor in the benefits reported. Other recent studies have isolated flavonoids and other antioxidants in coffee that may protect against free radicals that can damage cells. Free radicals are believed to play a role in the development of heart disease and cancer and in aging.

While this study offers good news for women, it’s also important to consider other studies that have been completed recently. Two studies released in January 2008, for instance, have other news for women. The first suggested strongly that women who drink two or more cups of coffee a day during pregnancy have nearly twice the risk of miscarriage as those who avoid caffeine. The other is more good news – women who drink caffeinated coffee have a lower risk of ovarian cancer.

The upshot of all this is the usual caution – everything in moderation. Drink up and enjoy your coffee – but don’t overdo it.