Coffee drinkers swear that their hot beverage is a lifesaver, and new research has found that they may actually be onto something.
According to a study recently presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, people who drink large amounts of coffee (four cups or more) have a lower risk of death than their less caffeinated peers. For the study, researchers studied cohort data of nearly 20,000 individuals with an average age at enrollment of 37.7 years old. When people entered the study, they answered a questionnaire about how much coffee they drank, lifestyle and social factors, body measurements, and information about past health conditions.
Study participants had follow-ups about their health after about 10 years. During that time period, 337 of them died. The researchers found that people who had a least four cups of coffee a day were 64 percent less likely to die of any cause during that time period than people who said they never or almost never drank coffee.
The researchers also looked at whether a person’s sex, age, or diet played a role and found that for those who were at least 45 years old and drank two additional cups of coffee a day had a 30 percent lower mortality risk during the 10-year follow-up. However, this link wasn’t found with younger study participants. As a result, the researchers concluded that drinking four cups of coffee a day can be part of a healthy diet.
The study was observational, which means researchers can’t actually prove that drinking coffee extends your life — just that there’s a link between drinking coffee and living longer. That’s important, Michael Chan, MD, an interventional cardiologist with St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., tells Yahoo Beauty. “While this is an interesting study, it … doesn’t prove any causation, just correlation,” he says. Meaning, while it’s possible that coffee may extend your life, it’s also possible that people who live longer just really like to drink a lot of coffee.
But women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, tells Yahoo Beauty that she’s not surprised by the findings. “We’ve heard so many mixed things about coffee drinking over the last decade, but many of the more recent studies have touted the many health benefits of consuming coffee,” she says.
One massive study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in July found that heavy coffee drinkers had a significantly lower risk of dying from any cause than those who weren’t hooked on java. Another study published in the same journal in early August looked at more than 185,000 African-Americans, Native Americans, Hawaiians, Japanese-Americans, Latinos, and Caucasians, and found that drinking coffee was generally correlated with a longer life (an association that wasn’t found for Hawaiians, though). The study’s researchers found that people who drank two to four cups a day in particular had an 18 percent lower risk of death compared with people who weren’t coffee drinkers.
These aren’t the only pro-coffee studies out there. A 2015 study published in the journal Circulation analyzed the coffee drinking habits of more than 208,000 people over 30 years and found that those who drank one to five cups of decaf or regular coffee a day had a lower risk of mortality than those who didn’t. Coffee drinkers were also less likely to die from heart disease, neurological diseases, type 2 diabetes, and suicide. And a meta-analysis of 36 studies published in the journal Circulation in 2014 also found that people who drink three to five cups of coffee a day had the lowest risk of developing heart disease.
But again, none of these studies have been able to prove that drinking coffee actually makes you healthier, just that there is a link.
“It’s much more likely that it’s association than it is causation,” David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Beauty. “Very healthy people tend to drink lots of caffeine.” Cutler says he suspects that coffee drinkers’ diet, lifestyle factors, and other healthy behaviors are the main reasons they’re living longer — not the coffee itself.
However, Wider points out that coffee has antioxidants that play an important role in disease prevention, which may explain part of the link between coffee and living a longer life. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should take up a coffee habit in an effort to be healthier (especially given that the caffeine in it isn’t recommended for people with certain health conditions, like heart arrhythmias). But if you’re already a huge coffee fan, it’s nice to know you can keep on doing what you’re doing — and it may even be good for you.