Drinking coffee is associated with lower risk of mortality

  • Coffee is a popular drink for many people and is associated with a number of health benefits.
  • New research suggests that drinking a moderate amount of sweetened or unsweetened coffee is associated with a lower risk of mortality.
  • Based on the observational nature of the study, the results cannot conclusively prove that coffee reduces the risk of death.

Many people like to wake up in the morning and have a cup of coffee. Drinking coffee is associated with aspects of culture and social interaction, but what about the health benefits? Researchers are still working to understand all the health benefits of drinking coffee and the associated risks.

A recent study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that moderate consumption of coffee, both sweetened and unsweetened, was associated with decreased mortality.

Coffee is a popular beverage, both in the United States and around the world. It contains some nutrients as well as caffeine. Because coffee is so popular, consumers and researchers are interested in understanding the beverage’s impact on health and well-being.

A recent narrative review found that it is safe for most people to consume between one and four cups of coffee daily, which equates to a maximum of 400 mg of caffeine per day.

Coffee drinkers may have a lower risk of specific health problems, such as Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Coffee consumption is also associated with a decreased risk of certain cancers and reduced risk of mortality. But does how people drink their coffee make a difference? That’s what the researchers in the current study sought to find out.

In this study, the researchers sought to determine whether the lower mortality risk associated with coffee use still applies to the addition of artificial sweeteners or sugar to coffee.

They noted that previous studies had found a decreased risk of mortality associated with coffee consumption. However, “these studies did not distinguish between coffee consumed with sugar or artificial sweeteners and coffee consumed without.”

The study included more than 170,000 participants, and researchers followed participants for an average of 7 years. Participants were eligible for the study if they did not have cardiovascular disease (CVD) or cancer at baseline.

The researchers obtained an initial assessment of participants’ coffee consumption by looking at whether they drank coffee sweetened with sugar, artificially sweetened, or unsweetened. Next, they examined the association of coffee consumption with all-cause mortality and mortality from cancer and cardiovascular disease.

The authors took lifestyle, clinical, and sociodemographic factors into account in the analysis. They found that more than half of the coffee drinkers in the study drank unsweetened coffee. Typically, those who added sugar added less than 1.5 teaspoons of sugar.

The study found that moderate consumption of coffee, with or without sugar, was associated with a decreased risk of mortality. However, results regarding mortality risk and artificial sweeteners were inconsistent.

Christina Wee, MD, MPH, associate editor of the Annals of Internal Medicine and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, published an editorial on the study. Dr. Wee noted some of the highlights of the study:

“The observational study, while not conclusive, found that moderate coffee consumption – about 1.5 to 3.5 cups a day – even with added sugar, was likely not harmful for most people and appeared to be associated with a 30% reduction in the risk of mortality. These findings suggest that people who drink coffee can continue to do so without cause for concern, which is good news for a large part of the population.”

While some may run for their next cup of coffee, the study had several limitations to consider. First, the study authors noted that their research did not account for changes in coffee intake or possible changes in sweetener use over time. Second, participants reported how much coffee they drank and other dietary factors; self-report can increase the risk of errors.

The third and main caveat is that the researchers collected coffee consumption data from the UK Biobank, a large medical database of health information from people across the UK. The authors described these data as “not representative of the sample population”. Based on the observational nature of the study, the results cannot conclusively prove that coffee reduces the risk of death. This study does not consider healthy lifestyle factors that may confound or contribute to lower mortality risk.

The researchers also noted that the group that used artificial sweeteners was the smallest. Thus, the risk of confusion was much greater. It was also more difficult to notice any significant associations in this group. Finally, the study also had a relatively short follow-up time, making it difficult to observe specific associations with some causes of death.

Dr. Wee further noted that the results do not apply to certain coffee drinks that add large amounts of sugar.

“These findings do not apply to specialty coffees that have higher amounts of sugar and calories or [add] substantially the average of 1 teaspoon of coffee examined in the study,” said Dr. Wee. “Perhaps future studies can look at whether the same mortality benefit applies to these types of beverages.”

When asked for comment, non-study nutrition expert Dr. Brian Power noted the following:

“This study combines a repeated message about coffee consumption with a series of caveats. That is, although drinking coffee is not essential for survival, it will not cause any harm to your health. Food and drink are never consumed in isolation, and the authors do not exaggerate the reported effects.”

Overall, the results indicate that most people can take the results and coffee with a spoonful of sugar.

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