May 31, 2022 - Health

Coffee associated with lower mortality risk

Illustration of a coffee pot that's also an hourglass.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Those who drink coffee — sweetened or not — were less likely to die than non-coffee drinkers in the following seven years, according to a cohort study published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Why it matters: Previous studies have observed coffee is associated with a lower risk of death but didn't distinguish between unsweetened java and coffee consumed with sugar.

  • The jury is still out on artificial sweeteners.

The details: The researchers from Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, used behavioral data from more than 171,000 people enrolled in a U.K. study to understand coffee consumption patterns.

  • They found during a seven-year follow-up period, participants who drank any amount of unsweetened coffee were 16% to 21% less likely to die than participants who did not drink coffee.
  • Participants who drank 1.5 to 3.5 daily cups of coffee sweetened with sugar were 29% to 31% less likely to die than participants who did not drink coffee.

Be smart: If there one thing in health research that is certain: there will always be coffee studies. One week it's good for you. The next? It's bad.

  • "This study, as with all the other studies, uses observational data so we have to be cautious because it's not a clinical trial. We can't infer cause and effect," said Christina Wee, who was the editor of the paper and who wrote a corresponding editorial about the study.
  • The authors did a particularly good job at controlling for other factors, like the physical activity of coffee drinkers, Wee said. Even so: "You can never be sure," she said.
  • There are some pros and cons with coffee consumption that have been documented, Wee said. But "if you look at the totality of the evidence, I think most people would comfortably say that coffee drinking a moderate amount is probably not harmful."

Yes, but: They're talking about moderate amounts of coffee — between 1.5 and 3.5 cups a day.

  • As Wee pointed out, this was based on data that is about 10 years old from the U.K. where the average coffee drinker is using an average of about a teaspoon of sugar — not downing caramel macchiatos.

The bottom line: This doesn't offer evidence that one should start a coffee habit for its benefits. But: "If you're a regular coffee drinker, there's no need to give it up," Wee said.

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