Heavenly Elixir

Study Says That Coffee Helps You Live Longer

There’s a catch, of course — and it might mean you have to put down that teaspoon of sugar.

Originally Published: 
A mom downs a cup of coffee made from a moka pot while holding her infant

Good news for coffee drinkers! Everyone’s favorite morning (or midday) pick-me-up might have an extra benefit (besides giving you the will to make it through the day). Turns out, the 70% of Americans who drink coffee regularly might live longer than those who don’t partake in this particular mana from Heaven.

Coffee has several well-documented health benefits — from lowering the risk of depression and Parkinson’s disease to decreasing the chance of developing type 2 diabetes and liver cancer. But new research has found this elixir of life might be just that…sorta.

For the study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers examined data from more than 170,000 people that had been collected as part of the UK Biobank from 2009 through 2018. Participants self-reported coffee consumption and whether it was unsweetened, sweetened with sugar, or sweetened with artificial sweeteners. All participants were confirmed cancer- and cardiovascular disease-free before inclusion in the retrospective study.

Those who reported low to regular unsweetened coffee intake on a regular basis —1.5 to 3.5 cups daily — were up to 30% less likely to die from any cause during the median seven-year follow-up time compared to those who abstained from the potent brew. Drinking more or less was beneficial too; drinking any amount of unsweetened coffee was associated with a decreased risk of death.

Unfortunately for those who prefer their coffee to taste more like candy, people who reported drinking unsweetened coffee had a lower risk of death than those who drank coffee sweetened with about a teaspoon of sugar. Participants who drank sugar-sweetened coffee only had a decreased risk of mortality if they drank between 1.5 and 3.5 cups per day.

It’s unclear how drinking coffee with artificial sweeteners is linked to risk of death.

These findings may be chalked up to the fact that coffee is chock full of antioxidants that offer protection from disease and reduce inflammation all the way down to the cellular level.

However, because of the way the study was designed, it can’t prove that coffee causes the decreased risk in mortality, only that it was associated with it after controlling for factors like sociodemographics.

It’s important to remember that coffee isn’t for everyone. Caffeine can be problematic during pregnancy, and over-consumption by anyone can cause jitters and agitation, heart flutters, and obviously, the drink can disrupt sleep patterns.

As a culture, though we just drink so much of it, we don’t really think about the drawbacks of our collective caffeine dependency. “I think that caffeine is so common and so ingrained in our culture and daily habits that we often don’t think about it as a potential source of problems,” said Mary M. Sweeney, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who was not associated with this study, told the New York Times.

As with everything, moderation is key — especially when it comes to extravagant drinks from coffee shops. The sugar and fat in designer coffee drinks might undo the good things regular ol’ coffee brings to the table.

“When you talk about a drink that has that load of unhealthy fats and that much sugar, can’t possibly be a healthy beverage on balance,” Dr. Jim Krieger, professor of medicine and health services at the University of Washington, explained to the NYT. “That amount of sugar alone is astronomical compared to the current recommendations of U.S. Dietary Guidelines of 50 grams of sugar a day.”

By all means, enjoy your cup of joe, but maybe think twice about skipping the frozen java blast frappuccinos or creamy, sugary lattes. Instead, maybe a little bit of milk will do. And hold the sugar!

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