Thursday, 24 May 2012

COFFEE? For Life?

As life is action and passion, it is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time, at the peril of being not to have lived.

Did you ever wonder if all that coffee you drink might be bad for you?

Sure, it might make you jittery if you drink too much or if its particularly strong. And it might keep you up at night, especially if you drink it late in the day. But are there other, more important health consequences of drinking coffee every day?

A new study addresses this question. And its an important one: Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world.

The study, as published in the New England Journal of Medicine, compared the coffee consumption of more than 400,000 adults (ages 50 to 71) with their death rates over 13 years.

The initial results showed that coffee drinkers had a higher risk of death. But, before you swear off coffee, theres more to the story. It turned out that people who drank coffee also were more likely to smoke. Smoking is called a confounder a factor other than coffee that can affect the death rate of coffee drinkers when compared with nondrinkers. After accounting for smoking (and other confounders), coffee drinkers actually had a lower death rate than those who did not drink coffee. That was true for people who drank decaf, as well as people drinking caffeinated coffee. Comparing women who drank coffee with those who did not, the death rates were:

5% lower for those drinking 1 cup per day
13% lower for those drinking 2 or 3 cups per day
16% lower for those drinking 4 or 5 cups per day
15% lower for those drinking 6 or more cups per day
The findings were similar for men, though slightly less dramatic. Death rates were lower by 6% to 12% among coffee drinkers.

When researchers looked at specific causes of death, they found that coffee drinkers had lower rates of:

Heart disease
Lung disease
Injuries and accidents

Cancer deaths were similar in frequency among those who did or did not drink coffee.

Observing a lower death rate among coffee drinkers does not prove that coffee itself is responsible. A study of this type cannot determine cause and effect. But because these results come from a large, well-designed analysis, Id have to say its possible that drinking coffee might help you live longer!

I dont think this study should prompt a person who doesnt like coffee to start drinking it for their health. Coffee consumption can have side effects. Some people feel "hyper," sleep poorly or have heartburn if they drink coffee. And, as mentioned, this study cannot prove that coffee was even the reason that coffee drinkers died less often. The findings could have been due to a confounder that researchers didn't know about.

Still, this new study adds to the list of potential health benefits associated with coffee consumption. For example, prior studies have linked coffee consumption with lower risks of:

Liver disease (including cirrhosis and liver cancer)
Type 2 diabetes
Parkinsons disease
Aggressive types of prostate cancer
Its worth noting that, as found in this study, any benefit from coffee can be more than offset by smoking. If you smoke, make a commitment to quitting. Some people can do it on their own. But if you cant, talk to your doctor about ways to quit. These may include lifestyle changes (such as trying to surround yourself with nonsmokers), medications (such as nicotine patches) or both.

This new study should offer some measure of reassurance to those who enjoy coffee regularly. But it could have a bigger impact on finding new topics for future research. If coffee really does lower death risk, understanding how and why could lead to powerful new preventive and treatment options. The researchers who performed this study suggest that anti-oxidants in coffee (called polyphenols) might be responsible. Only additional research will help us learn if thats true.

There is the finest line between data and evidence.