A new HealthBeat message from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) features a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, finding that “Coffee drinkers have a lower risk of dying from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease and infections” than persons who do not drink coffee.
The HHS HealthBeat, published on July 26, 2012, refers to a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which analyzed data on 402,260 people ages 50 to 71, to see if coffee drinking was linked to risk of death.
The study, on “Association of coffee drinking with total and cause-specific mortality,” led by Dr. Neal Freedman of NIH’s National Cancer Institute (NCI), was published in the May 17, 2012 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The Study; Method
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers examined data from 229,119 men and 173,141 women who participated in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. The participants were 50 to 71 years old, and none had cancer, heart disease, and stroke at the beginning of the study. The extent of the participants’ coffee consumption was measured by a questionnaire at the beginning of the study, along with many other measures of diet and other lifestyle factors.
During the follow-up period between 1995 and 2008, a total of 33,731 of the men and 18,784 of the women in the study died. Their causes of death were recorded.
The researchers used statistical analysis to measure “the association of coffee drinking with subsequent total and cause-specific mortality.”
The researchers found that, after adjusting for other risk factors such as tobacco-smoking and alcohol consumption (which increased death risk), coffee drinkers appeared to have a lower risk of dying than those who did not consume coffee.
Overall, that analysis found that “compared to men and women who didn’t drink coffee, those who drank 3 or more cups per day had approximately a 10% lower risk of death,” according to a report on the study published in June by the National Institutes of Health.
More specifically, as to the men in the study: the researchers reported that, according to their analysis, after adjusting for other risk factors, compared to men who did not drink coffee,
- the men who consumed 1 cup of coffee per day had a 4% lower risk of dying during the study period;
- men who drank 2 or 3 cups of coffee per day had a 10% lower risk of dying during the study period;
- men who drank 4 or 5 cups of coffee per day had a 12% lower risk of dying during the study period; and
- men who drank 6 or more cups of coffee per day had a 10% lower risk of dying during the study period.
As to the women in the study: the researchers reported that, according to their analysis, after adjusting for other risk factors, compared to women who did not drink coffee,
- the women who consumed 1 cup of coffee per day had a 5% lower risk of dying during the study period;
- women who drank 2 or 3 cups of coffee per day had a 13% lower risk of dying during the study period;
- women who drank 4 or 5 cups of coffee per day had a 16% lower risk of dying during the study period; and
- women who drank 6 or more cups of coffee per day had a 15% lower risk of dying during the study period.
The researchers stated their findings scientifically, as follows:
The authors also reported that “Inverse associations [lower risks of death for coffee drinkers, as compared to those who did not drink coffee] were observed for deaths due to heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections, but not for deaths due to cancer.”
“Results were similar in subgroups, including persons who had never smoked and persons who reported very good to excellent health at baseline,” the researchers noted.
“In this large prospective study, coffee consumption was inversely associated with total and cause-specific mortality,” the researchers concluded.
As to why coffee may be associated with a lower death risk, the NIH noted in its report on the study that “The most-studied compound in coffee is caffeine, but the findings [in the study] were similar among those who drank their coffee caffeinated or decaffeinated.”
Dr. Freedman, the study’s lead author, said that “The mechanism by which coffee protects against risk of death—if indeed the finding reflects a causal relationship—is not clear, because coffee contains more than 1,000 compounds that might potentially affect health.”
The authors call for further study to examine how coffee may act to protect health, if it does. They point out that in the study, coffee consumption was measured only by one questionnaire at the beginning of the study, and therefore may not reflect actual consumption over the course of the study. Furthermore, the participants did not report how their coffee was prepared (espresso, boiled, filtered, etc.). “Preparation methods can affect the levels of many compounds in coffee,” according to the NIH report on the study.
Dr. Freedman, the lead author, and his colleagues also cautioned that their study does not prove that coffee actually causes people to live longer. “Whether [the association between coffee consumption and lower death risk found in the study] was a causal or [merely] associational finding cannot be determined from our data,” the authors wrote.
Further study would be required to rule out other potential causes for the association, and examine the mechanism by which coffee may affect health.
“Although we cannot infer a causal relationship between coffee drinking and lower risk of death, we believe these results do provide some reassurance that coffee drinking does not adversely affect health,” Dr. Freedman concluded.
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- Other Areas of Wellness: Emotional, Ethical/ Spiritual & Vocational Wellness; and
- Examples of Healthy Aging: Stories of Inspiring Seniors.
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