Drink Up! Your Coffee Habit Might Mean a Longer Life

Years after most others in my cohort, I recently developed a nasty coffee habit. Better late than never: it turns out drinking a few cups of coffee every day is not only good for you, it could help you live a longer, healthier life.

Results of a study conducted by the University of Southern California and the University of Hawaii Cancer Center suggest coffee drinking is associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and respiratory and kidney disease.

For those of us who drink one cup a day, this risk is decreased by 12 percent. Heavier drinkers who consume two or three cups a day enjoy a 18 percent reduced chance of death.

“We cannot say drinking coffee will prolong your life, but we see an association,” said V. Wendy Setiawan, lead author of the study and an associate professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, to the university. “If you like to drink coffee, drink up! If you’re not a coffee drinker, then you need to consider if you should start.”

Surprisingly, the result seems to have nothing to do with caffeine. These reduced risks showed up for coffee drinkers regardless of whether they took it caffeinated or not.

Why it works

More than half of people in the U.S. are daily coffee drinkers, many of them relying on the beverage to get them going in the morning.

According to the National Coffee Association, about 62 percent of people in the U.S. drink coffee every day, a 5 percent increase from last year’s consumption. That increase is due to a growing interest in gourmet coffee, especially among young adults, the 2017 report suggests. Fifty percent of 25- to 39-year-olds have a gourmet coffee drink every day, up from 41 percent the year before.

And although that can be an expensive and wasteful habit, depending on whether you’re making your gourmet coffee at home or buying it in disposable cups from your favorite café, the health benefits are there. Previous research has indicated that coffee consumption is linked to a reduced risk for some kinds of cancer (including colorectal cancer, which is on the rise in young adults), diabetes, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease and other diseases.

“Coffee contains a lot of antioxidants and phenolic compounds that play an important role in cancer prevention,” Setiawan said. “Although this study does not show causation or point to what chemicals in coffee may have this ‘elixir effect,’ it is clear that coffee can be incorporated into a healthy diet and lifestyle.”

However, drink with caution. Sipping very hot coffee and other beverages probably causes cancer of the esophagus, according to a World Health Organization panel of scientists. But the WHO has backed off on its stance of 25 years that coffee is linked to bladder cancer. It announced last year that drinking coffee actually reduces the risk for liver and uterine cancers.

“Some people worry drinking coffee can be bad for you because it might increase the risk of heart disease, stunt growth or lead to stomach ulcers and heartburn,” Setiawan said. “But research on coffee have mostly shown no harm to people’s health.”

Coffee for everyone

The coffee study looked at lifestyle data of more than 215,000 ethnically diverse people. The data was collected over the course of years to determine a link between lifestyle choices and cancer.

“Until now, few data have been available on the association between coffee consumption and mortality in (non-white people) in the United States and elsewhere,” the study stated. “Lifestyle patterns and disease risks can vary substantially across racial and ethnic backgrounds, and findings in one group may not necessarily apply to others.”

During the study, 31 percent of the participants died, mostly of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The researchers spotted the coffee connection in African Americans, Japanese-Americans, Latinxs and white people. Setiawan said it’s likely the results apply to other ethnic groups, too, because the “study is the largest of its kind and includes minorities who have very different lifestyles.”

“Seeing a similar pattern across different populations gives stronger biological backing to the argument that coffee is good for you whether you are white, African-American, Latino or Asian,” she said.

Katie Moritz

Katie Moritz is Rewire’s web editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for a newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to balmy Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she works on this here website. Reach her via email at kmoritz@tpt.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz and on Instagram @yepilikeit.

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