Does Coffee Help Lower Risk of Early Death?

Adults who drink a few cups of coffee each day, either unsweetened or sweetened with a spoonful of sugar, were found to be less likely to die during a seven-year follow-up period, according to research published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study involved 170,616 individuals in the United Kingdom who filled out a questionnaire about their coffee habits. The most popular flavor was unsweetened, with the largest number of participants (76 percent) reporting drinking coffee. Only 14% of all respondents added, on average, more than a teaspoon of sugar to their coffee after it had been sweetened.

Artificial sweeteners were also used by 6% of respondents. And, according to the research, 24 percent of those who did not drink coffee were tea drinkers. Participants were followed for an average of seven years, during which time 3,177 people died (1.85 percent).

Dan Liu, M.D., a study co-author and researcher at Southern Medical University said that the study found, that "adults who drank moderate amounts of coffee sweetened with sugar every day were about 30 percent less likely to die from any cause during the average seven-year follow-up period, compared to non-coffee drinkers.”

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What Did The Coffee Study Actually Say?

Participants in the study were, on average, roughly 56 years old when they were recruited between 2006 and 2010. Researchers took into account variables that might impact their risk of mortality, such as diet, smoking, social status, preexisting medical conditions, and air pollution exposure. The following are some of the findings:

Subjects who consumed any amount of unsweetened coffee had a 16 to 21 percent reduced chance of dying than those who didn't drink coffee.

Coffee drinkers who consumed 1.5 to 3.5 daily cups of sweetened coffee had a 29 to 31 percent reduced risk of dying than those who didn't drink any coffee.

The same benefits were discovered regardless of brewing method or whether the coffee was caffeinated or decaffeinated.​

The connection, on the other hand, was not made for coffee consumed with a sugar substitute.

Coffee has been connected with a decreased risk of death in previous studies, although earlier research did not distinguish between unsweetened coffee and coffee with sugar or artificial sweeteners. The current study did not evaluate the impact of adding milk, cream, or a non-dairy product.

Important Warning to Note

Christina Wee, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the journal's deputy editor, urged against drawing too many conclusions from the data in a press release published with the study. “Unfortunately, Liu and colleagues' research does not quite get to what we truly want to know. Is drinking coffee loaded with sugar and calories good for you? I think the definitive answer is still no.”

According to Wee, the coffee habits of Americans may differ from those recorded in surveys a decade ago in the United Kingdom. She notes that an “8-ounce cup of caramel macchiato at a popular US coffee chain” contains roughly four times as much sugar as a spoonful added to the typical cup in the UK.

Dr. Wee says that despite the fact that we cannot state for certain that drinking coffee lowers mortality risk, the entire body of evidence does not indicate a need for most coffee drinkers — particularly those who drink it with no or little sugar — to quit consuming coffee. So enjoy yourself, but be careful not to overdo it with caramel macchiatos