No, drinking coffee probably won’t make you live longer

at 11:07 AM ET, 05/17/2012

It’s a study that’s been happily noted by the ranks of the highly-caffeinated:
These coffee beans probably won’t save your life. (istock)
People who drank coffee lowered their risk of premature death as much as 10 percent (men) to 15 percent (women). Even drinking one cup a day lowered men’s mortality risk by 6 percent.

That research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and released Wednesday afternoon. Already, Google News can pick up 11,000 headlines declaring that coffee drinkers do indeed “live longer.” But dig into the research, and you might want to hold off on trading in your gym membership for a Starbucks card.

The study, by the National Institutes of Health and AARP, was the largest ever done on coffee’s impact on health. And that impact was nothing to scoff at: Results showed “significant inverse associations of coffee consumption with deaths from all causes.”

In a 2009 study on exercise and mortality by researchers in Finland, it took 30 minutes of exercise each day to halve the risk of premature death among men.What if a few extra lattes could get us about a third of the way there?

Those are all pretty good reasons to trust this particular study‘s findings. It gets a little more complicated, however, when you parse out what these results might actually mean for the individual coffee drinker.

To start, individuals who had the biggest reductions in rates of premature death drank a ton of coffee, six or more cups each day. The average coffee drinker consumes about half that amount, or 3.1 cups each day. If you want to get all of coffee’s protective effects, you would need to down two venti Starbucks coffees - and still have to drink another, short cup of java to cross the finish line.

And then there are the risk factors associated with coffee consumption. The study’s researchers found that coffee drinkers were more prone to engage in a whole host of unhealthy activities. They smoke more, are more likely to consume three or more alcoholic drinks a day and eat more red meat. They exercise less and eat fewer fruits and vegetables.

When the researchers isolated coffee consumption as a single variable, they did indeed see a drop in the risk of premature death. But when they looked at coffee-drinkers who had those bad health habits, the risk of death was actually higher: Coffee-drinkers are actually more likely to die early because of those habits.

Researchers are also still puzzling over what connects coffee to a longer life. It’s doesn’t look to be caffeine, as the researchers found similar risk outcomes for those who drank regular coffee and those who downed decaf.

“My thinking is that these associations are very interesting but until you really link it to a causative mechanism, it remains vague,” Lawrence Krakoff, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told Reuters.

 
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