Coffee drinking linked to lower mortality risk

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

Many people enjoy waking up in the morning and drinking a cup of coffee. Drinking coffee is associated with aspects of culture and social interaction, but what about its health benefits? Researchers are still working to understand the full health benefits of drinking coffee and the associated risk.

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

Coffee is a popular drink both in the United States and worldwide. It contains some nutrients and caffeine. Because coffee is so popular, consumers and researchers alike have a vested interest in understanding the beverage’s impact on health and well-being.

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

Coffee drinkers may have a lower risk of specific health conditions, such as: type 2 diabetes and obesity† Consuming coffee is also associated with a reduced risk of certain types of cancer and a reduced risk of death. But does it matter how people drink their coffee? That’s what researchers tried to find in the current study.

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

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

The study involved more than 170,000 participants, and researchers followed the participants for an average of 7 years. Participants were eligible for the study if they had no cardiovascular disease or cancer at baseline.

Researchers were given a baseline assessment of participants’ coffee consumption, noting whether they drank sugar-sweetened, artificially sweetened, or unsweetened coffee. They then examined the association of coffee consumption with all-cause mortality and death from cancer and cardiovascular disease.

The authors considered lifestyle, clinical, and sociodemographic factors 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 coffee consumption, with or without sugar, was associated with a reduced risk of death. However, the results regarding mortality risk and artificial sweeteners were inconsistent.

Christina Wee, MD, MPH, deputy editor of Annals of Internal Medicine and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, published an editorial on the study. dr. Wee noted a few highlights of the study:

“The observational study, while inconclusive, found that moderate coffee consumption — about 1.5 to 3.5 cups a day — even with added sugar was unlikely to be harmful for most people and appeared to be associated with a 30% reduction in mortality risk. These findings suggest that people who drink coffee can continue to do so without worry, which is good news for much of the population.”

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

The third and most important caveat is that researchers collected coffee consumption data from the UK Biobank, a large medical database of people’s health information in the UK. The authors described this data as “not representative of the sample population.” Based on the observational nature of the study, the findings cannot conclusively prove that coffee lowers the risk of death. This study does not consider healthy lifestyle factors that may interfere with or contribute to mortality risk.

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

dr. Wee further noted that the results did not apply to certain coffee drinks that add high amounts of sugar.

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

When asked to comment, non-study author nutritionist Dr. Brian Power the following:

“This study combines a repeated message about coffee drinking with a series of caveats. That is, while drinking coffee is not essential for survival, it will not harm your health. Food and beverages 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 their coffee with a spoonful of sugar.

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