Another Coffee Study

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Bethany Hubbard/SCIENCE IN SOCIETY

Last year I gave up caffeine completely. Absurd, you might say, for someone just starting an intense graduate program. But, life without caffeine was actually quite good. I felt more awake and alert on a daily basis, and I never suffered the mid-afternoon crash that often comes when the java jolt wears off.

Then I went to England. It started with one cup of Earl Grey in the morning, which led to a second cup at work. Soon I was rediscovering my love for Vanilla Rooibos and English Breakfast. But I still kept my distance from coffee – until I caved and ordered a flat white (essentially a cappuccino without as much foam) in Brighton. One sip, one smell, one cup later and I found myself back on the coffee bandwagon. Upon returning to the states, I dusted off the old Mr. Coffee and reincorporated a morning cup of joe into my daily routine.

I’ll admit, I feel a bit guilty that I wasn’t able to stave off my addiction for more than a year. So when I saw a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine that suggests that coffee consumption may increase your lifespan oh so slightly, I was pleased. But, being skeptical, I decided to take a closer look before downing an entire pot of dark roast.

Over the years, you’ve probably heard both good and bad things about coffee consumption. And, as with any study, this one had its limitations. “Given the observational nature of our study, it is not possible to conclude that the inverse relationship between coffee consumption and mortality reflects cause and effect,” the researchers write. “However, we can speculate about plausible mechanisms by which coffee consumption might have health benefits.”

So what did they find?

Researchers examined 229,119 men and 173,141 women in the National Institutes of Health–AARP Diet and Health Study who were 50 to 71 years of age. Participants were followed from 1995 to 2008. “As compared with men who did not drink coffee, men who drank six or more cups of coffee per day had a 10 percent lower risk of death, whereas women in this category of consumption had a 15 percent lower risk,” according to the study. This was also true for those who opted for decaf.

Don’t jump for joy just yet.

“In age-adjusted analyses, coffee consumption was actually associated with increased mortality among both men and women,” the study says. It was only after adjusting the results to account for possible life-shortening habits, such as smoking, and red meat and alcohol consumption that “a modest inverse association between coffee drinking and total mortality was observed for both sexes.” Hooray?

Ok, so the results aren’t as definitive as most coffee fanatics would like. And I don’t think I’ll be upping my daily coffee intake to six cups just yet. But I might feel a little less guilty about how much I look forward to that morning mug. (Click here to read more about the study.)

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