Coffee makes you awake. But does it also contribute to health? A recent study suggests that the drink could prolong life.
If you drink coffee, you feel guilty every now and then. Many people are deeply convinced that the black broth is unhealthy. Researchers, however, are less unanimous, they have been trying for years to quantify the damage and benefits of coffee. Recently, there have been more and more studies that want to prove positive effects – but the statements and recommendations are sometimes contradictory.
Another cautious indication that coffee drinkers could benefit from their passion is now available from an international research team. The scientists have evaluated data from the EPIC study, which investigates the relationship between diet and the development of cancer over many years, in relation to coffee consumption. The study involves more than half a million people from ten European countries. 16 years after the first survey of the test persons, almost 42,000 of them had died.
As the authors report in the specialist journal “Annals of Internal Medicine”, the probability of the examined men with very high coffee consumption to die within the observation period of about 16.4 years was twelve percent lower than with non-coffee drinkers. For women, the difference was seven percent. The mortality risk was also significantly different, especially for circulatory diseases and diseases related to the digestive tract. Various other factors such as diet and smoking, which influence the risk of death, were excluded by the researchers.
“Moderate coffee consumption is not harmful”.
However, lead author Marc Gunter of the International Agency for Cancer Research cautions caution when interpreting the data: “Due to the limitations of observational research, we are not at one point to recommend more or less coffee consumption”. Nevertheless, the results suggested that moderate coffee consumption of about three cups a day was not harmful to health, but that coffee might even have health benefits.
“Our study provides important insights into the possible mechanisms responsible for the positive effects of coffee,” said Gunter. “We found that drinking more coffee was associated with a more favorable liver function profile and an improved immune response.
However, the data do not reveal whether these correlations are actually the cause, i.e. whether coffee consumption alone is responsible for organ function changes and people living longer. Gunter Kuhnle from the British University of Reading, who did not participate in the study, also criticises this. He rates the observed effects as rather small. The results of such studies are often presented as sensational, although they usually do not allow any conclusions to be drawn about causality. However, he praised the database of the study, in which researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer IARC and Imperial College in London were involved.
Who drinks coffee?
For the nutrition epidemiologist Kuhnle, the current study closes a gap. The connection between total mortality and coffee consumption had already been investigated in the USA, but not in Europe. This is particularly interesting because the significance and preparation of coffee on both sides of the Atlantic differ considerably.
“In the USA, coffee is a ‘standard drink’ and is consumed in particular by people in lower income groups, while tea is more widespread in the UK and coffee is the exception. However, social status has a major impact on health. Unfortunately, the new study does not look at individual EU countries separately.
(Bio)-Chemistry in food
Kuhnle is particularly interested in the question of why the mortality rate is lower with higher coffee consumption: “Is this the effect of bioactive compounds in coffee, which could then be isolated or the coffee better prepared, or is there another reason?
It is also possible that the health effects do not come from coffee at all. Rather, the drink is only related to the actual reason for these effects. For example, it is conceivable that people with an increased risk of illness generally drink less coffee. However, the current study at least indicates that coffee consumption is not unhealthy.
Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world: it is estimated that 2.25 billion cups are drunk every day around the globe. Depending on the type and preparation, the hot drink consists of more than a thousand different substances, including caffeine. It was only last year that IARC announced that there was no evidence of an increased risk of cancer from coffee.