drinking coffee
Health & Wellness

Drinking Coffee Linked to Lower Health Risks

By on 07/19/2017
Michele Hirsch, MD

Michele Hirsch, MD

Two new studies lend fresh support to the contention that drinking coffee might provide some healthy perks.

One study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, or EPIC) was a survey of more than 521,000 people across 10 European countries. It reported that people who consumed three or more cups of joe per day had a significantly lower risk of death from all causes than non-coffee drinkers.

The second study, (Multiethnic Cohort, or MEC) conducted in Hawaii and Los Angeles, surveyed about 186,000 people of many races and ethnicities, 45 to 75. The result? Drinking two to four cups a day translated into an 18 percent lower risk of death compared to non-coffee drinkers.

The research appears in the July 11, 2017, Annals of Internal Medicine.

Einstein internal medicine specialist Michele Hirsch, MD, helps make sense of the findings.

Q. The EPIC study focuses on people in 10 European countries, which suggests that not everyone prepares or drinks coffee in the same way. Is that significant?

A. Given that the study included so many countries we can assume that a variety of different coffee preparations, blends, brewing and roasting methods were used, as well as drinking patterns. The fact that the findings in the EPIC study were consistent across countries supports the idea that the way you make or drink your coffee would not significantly affect the health benefits. One limitation, however, was that coffee drinking habits were assessed only once via a survey at the beginning of this 16-year study.

Everything in Moderation

Q. Researchers in the European study say they found an inverse relationship between coffee consumption and liver disease, cancer among women, suicide in men, and circulatory and digestive diseases. The American study suggested similar relationships. What does that mean?

A. In both the European study and the American study researchers found that people who reported drinking more coffee were found to live longer and were less likely to die of many different diseases. One exception was the death rate from ovarian cancer, which may have been higher in those drinking more coffee.

We can only conclude that the benefit comes from consuming moderate amounts of coffee. We cannot take away that if more than five cups were consumed, that there would be any additional benefit—or equally important, that it would not pose any additional health risks.

Q. Previous studies have looked at primarily white populations. The MEC, or American study looked at people from many races and ethnicities. Why was that important?

A. A number of previous studies in the past have supported the notion that coffee provides mortality benefits. However, data among non-white populations has been lacking. The MEC study is novel because it involved diverse populations. It included African Americans, Japanese Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. Researchers found a statistically significant association between coffee consumption and lower risk of death in all populations except Native Americans. Given that this correlation was reproduced when different racial and ethnic groups and lifestyles were studied, the results lend support to the previous findings.

Enjoy Your Daily Brew

Q. The European study suggests health benefits for people who drink three or more cups of coffee daily. Are there potential health risks associated with that level of consumption? Might it depend on whether you have a condition like heart disease? Or whether you’re younger or older?

A. The studies concluded that in healthy patients, moderate coffee intake up to three to five cups a day, or caffeine intake up to 400 mg/day, was not associated with adverse health outcomes.

Although studies have been conflicting regarding safety of caffeine intake, it is thought that caffeine can lead to a potential elevation in heart rate and blood pressure, so intake should be monitored in patients with hypertension, arrhythmias or coronary artery disease.

It is thought that these effects may be more prominent in people older than 70 years of age.
In addition, caffeine acts as a diuretic and can cause frequent urination, which occasionally can lead to dehydration and nutrient deficiency. Caffeine can also lead to jitteriness and disturbed sleep.

Q. Before we go off thinking that coffee is the perfect health tonic, is it?

A. I think we can say that there is no evidence that moderate coffee consumption is harmful and may even be beneficial to your health. It would be premature to recommend coffee to prevent chronic disease or to lengthen lifespan in patients, but if you are a regular coffee drinker you can take a sigh of relief and keep enjoying your daily brew.

Regardless of the quantity of coffee consumed, remember that it should be integrated into a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, and avoidance of smoking. And of course don’t forget that no health benefits have been found with adding loads of whipped cream and sweeteners.

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