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Coffee May Be Part of the Recipe for a Longer Life

Study of More Than 400,000 Men and Women Links Coffee With a Lower Risk of Death
By Rita Rubin
WebMD Health News

May 16, 2012 -- Whatever you call it -- joe, java, mud -- it is likely a key way to jump-start your day, and now new research suggests it may also help you live longer.

The study, described as the largest of its kind, found that coffee drinkers had a lower risk of death from heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, accidents and injuries, diabetes, and infections, but not from cancer. Researchers observed these results after accounting for the effects of other risk factors for dying, such as smoking and drinking alcohol.

The scientists examined the connection between drinking coffee and death among more than 400,000 men and women in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. Participants lived in six scattered states and the Atlanta and Detroit metropolitan areas. At the beginning of the study, they were 50 to 71 years old and had not had cancer, heart disease, or stroke.

Between 1995 and 1996, the men and women completed a comprehensive questionnaire assessing their diet and lifestyle. Nine out of 10 study participants drank coffee, and few of the coffee drinkers said they also drank tea, the focus of a future analysis, says researcher Neal Freedman, PhD, of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute.

Freedman and his collaborators then followed the people in the study until the date they died or Dec. 31, 2008, whichever came first.

Compared to people who drank no coffee, coffee drinkers who downed three or more cups a day had about a 10% lower risk of death overall and a lower risk of dying from each of a variety of leading killers. Cancer was the only exception.

Among women, coffee drinkers and non-drinkers were equally likely to die of cancer. Among men, there was only a slight connection between heavier coffee drinking and increased risk of dying from cancer.

Reassuring Findings

The study findings should be reassuring to people who drink coffee, one of the most popular beverages in the United States and worldwide, Freedman says. "There's been a concern for a long time that coffee drinking might increase the risk of death."

But he's not advising anyone to start drinking coffee on the basis of his results.

"Coffee is a complicated beverage," Freedman says, noting that it contains 1,000 different compounds, most of them little-studied.

Besides, because study participants weren't assigned to drink coffee or not drink it, the researchers can't be sure what caused the lower death rate -- the beverage itself or some unmeasured characteristic of the people who chose to drink it. This type of study can show the association, but it can't say that coffee caused people to live longer.

If you are thinking about starting to drink coffee, talk to your doctor about whether you might have any reason not to, Freedman says, adding that "there are some data that show coffee might cause a short-term increase in blood pressure."

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