Does Coffee Make You Live Longer? Here’s What Science Says
Is there any better way to start the morning than with a good cup of joe? If you’re like many people, your day doesn’t even start until after your morning coffee has had a chance to percolate and get your engine revving. #butfirstcoffee #iapologizeforeverythingisaidbeforecoffee
Of course, there is some controversy. In fact, there’s a good chance, at one time or another, you heard you should cut back or quit drinking coffee altogether to support your health. Heck, you may have even been told or read that this delicious elixir is downright dangerous.
But what if I were to tell you that coffee may make you live longer?
Does Coffee Make You Live Longer: THE JAMA Internal Medicine Study
Yes, I’m serious. According to a study from the August 2018 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, drinking coffee every day may actually decrease the risk of early death from all causes, including death from cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.1 And this was no small study. Part of the population-based UK Biobank study, this robust analysis involved 498,134 individuals from England, Scotland, and Wales, ranging in age from 38 to 73 with a mean age of 57.
Over a 10-year follow up, it was found that coffee drinking—including drinking 8 or more cups a day—was inversely associated with death from all causes. In other words, coffee drinking, in a dose-dependent manner, reduced the risk of early death.
For instance, folks who drank 2 to 3 or 4 to 5 cups per day were found to have around a 12% decreased risk of death compared to non-coffee drinkers. Believe it or not, the benefits seemed to peak, statistically speaking, for folks drinking 6 to 7 cups per day, which was associated with a 16% reduction in early death.
Meanwhile, folks who only drank one cup or fewer, on average, saw only 6 – 8% reductions in all-cause mortality. And it didn’t seem to matter if participants drank instant, ground, or even decaffeinated coffee (although the association was “somewhat weaker” for instant coffee). And it didn’t matter if the participants were male or female, how old they were, or their BMI.
Interestingly, these improvements were independent of genetic variations in caffeine metabolism. In other words, both fast and slow metabolizers of caffeine experienced similar longevity benefits of coffee consumption. (Slow metabolizers tend to be more sensitive to caffeine’s effects.)
This is a key finding because previous research indicated an increased risk for high blood pressure or heart attack for slow metabolizers. 2, 3 However, in these past studies, the increased risk was shown in people after the diagnosis of disease and they did not examine mortality risk. Further, the present findings further highlight the often-overlooked fact that there’s more—a lot more—to coffee than just caffeine. We’re talking about more than 1,000 compounds in coffee that could contribute to its potential to help you live longer.
The researchers of the JAMA Internal Medicine study did recommend interpreting the results “with caution” while also saying this is “further evidence that coffee drinking can be part of a healthy diet and offers reassurance to coffee drinkers.” And it’s also worth noting that the effects were called “slight” as coffee drinkers were about 10 to 15% less likely to die than non-coffee drinkers during the decade-long study.
While that robust study provides compelling evidence that coffee can make you live longer, there’s even more data supporting coffee’s standing as a longevity elixir.
Does Coffee Make You Live Longer: THE NIH-AARP Diet Study
As part of the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, which was designed to improve our understanding of the relationship between diet and health, researchers assessed the association between coffee consumption and the risk of death among 402,260 people, who ranged in age from 50 to 71 years old at the start of the study.
Initially, their analysis revealed that the risk of death actually increased for coffee drinkers. But when they drilled down farther, they found coffee drinkers were also more likely to be smokers. Once they adjusted for that, this large prospective study once again showed that coffee consumption was inversely associated with early death from all causes.4 That included early deaths caused by heart and respiratory diseases, stroke, diabetes, and infections, as well as injuries and accidents.
The coffee intake with the most benefit, according to this study, was 4 to 5 cups per day, which was associated with a 12% reduction in the risk of early death. Drinking more didn’t appear to provide any additional benefits, and consuming just a single cup a day was associated with a 6% reduction.4
Previous studies generally have shown a decreased risk for chronic disease with coffee consumption, including:
- Cardiovascular disease 5
- Type II diabetes 6
- Parkinson disease 7
- Alzheimer’s disease 8
- Liver disease 9
- Obesity 10
- And diseases of the gut 11
And coffee may also help support or improve:
- Skin health
- The immune system
- Social skills
- Group participation and engagement 12
- Asthma control
- A positive attitude, including reducing the risk of depression 13 and suicide by 20% and 53%, respectively 14
It’s no wonder why moderate coffee consumption of up to 5 cups per day is considered part of a healthy diet in the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report. 1 Now, before you refill your 16-ounce tumbler or grab another grande-sized coffee, keep in mind that a “cup” of coffee is typically defined as 6 to 8 ounces.
Health Benefits of Coffee
Coffee is arguably one of the healthiest beverages around and one of the best sources of antioxidants, including polyphenols, and other bioactive compounds for many Americans. In fact, according to researchers, “Surprisingly, the single greatest contributor to the total antioxidant intake is coffee.” 15 That’s not because coffee has more antioxidants than many fruits and vegetables, but rather, it is so commonly consumed that it contributes the largest share on average.
Potential protective effects of drinking coffee may include:
- Reductions in markers of inflammation
- Improvements in insulin sensitivity
- Improvements in brain function
- Improvements in liver enzyme function
- Improvements in circulation of blood and lymphatic vessels
And if you’re not looking for the stimulant effect of a cup of coffee, decaf seems to have similar positive effects. While caffeine, which is indeed an antioxidant, is perhaps the most well-known component in coffee, it’s likely not the most protective.
In addition to the phytochemicals, other nutrients found in coffee include lignans, quinides, magnesium, and potassium as well as vitamins B2, B5, B1, and B3.
Is Coffee Good for Everyone?
The short answer is no. Coffee isn’t good for everyone. It’s not recommended for pregnant women, for example, who should limit caffeine consumption to less than 200 mg per day from all sources as it increases the risk of low birthweight and pre-term labor. And other research has linked heavy coffee drinking—over 5 cups a day—to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. 16
In addition, the research above focused only on the benefits of coffee on healthy folks. So, it’s unclear what type of effect coffee can have on those who already have a disease. If your doctor or health-care professional has said no to the coffee habit for you, please take their advice.
And of course, there are some people who don’t like the way caffeine makes them feel—jittery, anxious, and uncomfortable. High amounts of caffeine are also associated with anxiety, insomnia, calcium loss and bone fractures, 17 digestive issues, headaches, and palpitations and rapid heart rate. 18
If a cup of coffee brings you anything but joy, pick another beverage. Some experts have theorized, for example, that part of what makes coffee so healthful is that it gives individuals an enjoyable break during their day. Without that enjoyment, it’s less likely to have the same positive effects.
It’s also important to remember that coffee, especially when consumed later in the day, can disrupt sleep, which can lead to a number of negative effects. And the caffeine in coffee can be addictive and lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms like headaches, exhaustion, brain fog, and irritability if you skip it for a day or two.
Finally, while the first study looked at people who drank up to 8 cups of coffee a day, we do know that having too much caffeine, especially too quickly, can be dangerous.
Coffee May Make You Live Longer: A Wrap Up
Coffee is a rich source of antioxidants for many of us, and we’ve now got robust evidence from observational studies suggesting coffee may help reduce the risk of early death and extend not just the years you live but the life in those years. But, it’s important to interpret these studies cautiously and responsibly. That is, the data has yet to clearly determine whether the apparent beneficial relationship between coffee and longevity is causal or associative.
In other words, as compelling as the evidence is, there is no definitive proof that coffee can make you live longer. More research is definitely needed. Yet the evidence does seem pretty intriguing, and perhaps more than anything, it provides solid reassurance to coffee drinkers that their beverage of choice isn’t nearly as bad or unhealthy as some have historically suggested.
So, if coffee is your brew, it looks like it’s okay to go ahead and enjoy that extra mug for its delicious flavor and energy enhancement—and maybe, just maybe, get a slight boost to your health and longevity as well.