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Drink Coffee, Live Longer

Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.
A short time ago in this space, we highlighted a study showing that the color of your mug can influence the taste of your coffee. A bit more reading turned up another way to sweeten your cup o' java: read the New England Journal of Medicine. More specifically, read their recent study that shows that coffee drinkers may live longer than their non-coffee-drinking counterparts. This is hardly the first time a study has proposed a link between coffee drinking, for good or ill. As with anything else that's enjoyable in life -- like beer, wine, chocolate, salt, butter, or bacon, for instance -- the research swings back and forth like a pendulum, with anything you enjoy sending you on a one-way trip to clogged arteries, cancer, and probably even Dutch elm disease, at least 'til the next study, when it's determined that the last study was likely bunk. Wherein lies a bit of the irony in the results of this study. That's because heavy coffee drinking also correlates strongly to less healthy habits and behaviors like less exercise, meat eating, alcohol use, and smoking. Before you get excited, the study does not suggest that you light up another Chesterfield to go with your beer and your sirloin as long as you finish your dinner with a latte. The study was carefully designed to control for participants' unhealthy habits. It followed 229,119 men and 173,141 women who were members of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) between 1995 and 2008. Once the researchers controlled for the risks associated with the unhealthy behaviors that often accompanied coffee drinking, an interesting pattern emerged. As the New York Times noted, the more coffee a person consumed, "the less likely he or she was to die from a number of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, infections and even injuries and accidents." The overall decrease in risk of death during the study period was about ten percent for men and fifteen percent for women. Unlike another study conducted in tandem with the AARP that examined the link between coffee drinking and decreased death rates from malignant melanoma, the results in this study held relatively constant whether the respondents drank regular or decaf. Anecdotally, at least, you would expect coffee to have some ill health effects. After all, caffeine is a stimulant that is directly linked to temporary increases in heart rate and blood pressure. But in much the same way that many of us drink coffee for reasons other than its caffeine content, coffee is estimated to have over a thousand different biochemical compounds. Science is only beginning to understand those compounds, how they interact with each other, and how those compounds, in turn, interact with the human body. The usual caveat -- underscored by the study's lead author, Dr. Neal D. Freedman -- is that even though the study used a large sample size and was conducted over a period of years, these should only be considered preliminary results. There's a correlative link, in other words, but as the saying goes, correlation is not causality. Much more research will need to be done to determine the validity of the study's findings. In other words, your coffee habit may not lead to better health, but all else being equal, it probably won't kill you either. In the course of that research, it's possible that scientists will better understand just what it is about coffee that's providing those health benefits. Further Reading: The original study in the New England Journal of Medicine An article on the NEJM's study in the New York Times' Well blog Want to start drinking your way to health? Try our Broadway Dark Roast Nespresso-compatible coffee capsules.