The venerable LA Times has done it again -- they've printed the mother of all deceptive coffee health headlines. And it's not the first time. Back in 2008, when the Annals of Internal Medicine published a similar study by Esther Lopez-Garcia, the headlines read "Coffee Drinkers Less Likely to Die". Does that mean coffee is the elixir of eternal life?
Not exactly. This study, like the earlier one, is a survey-population based study. Researchers tracked more than 400,000 older adults for 14 years, recording their dietary and other health habits. By contrast, the Lopez-Garcia study followed about 10% of that number -- 40,000 women who participated in the Nurses' Health Study for more than 25 years.
The result -- they found that people who drink at least 1 cup of coffee a day were less likely to die during the study period than those who drink no coffee at all, or only drink it occasionally. So, the more accurate -- but certainly less fun -- headline would be "Coffee Drinkers Live Longer on Average".
Some of the nitty gritty statistics: men and women both see a benefit in drinking coffee, even as little as one cup of coffee a day. Men who drink one cup of coffee a day had a 6% lower risk of dying during the study, while women who drank one cup of coffee daily had a 5% lower risk. Those odds change as the coffee drinking increases, though. Men who drank two to three cups a day had a 10% lower risk, compared to women who drank the same amount and saw a 13% decrease in risk. And men who drank four to five cups of coffee a day lowered their risk of dying during the study by 12 percent while women who indulged that much saw a decreased risk of 16 percent. The beneficial effects are slightly reduced in those who drank more than 5 cups a day -- back down to 10% for men and 15% for women.
The difference between the effects on men and women -- my own theory here, not anything suggested by the researchers -- is that it may be less gender-related and more size/dosage related. In general, women are smaller than men, so maybe they're just getting a higher relative dose of whatever helpful compounds in coffee are responsble.
The study was published in the "New England Journal of Medicine" and based on information gathered by a National Institutes of Health/AARP study involving more than 400,000 older adults.
For the record, those who drank decaf also saw a beneficial effect, and the study didn't differentiate by brewing methods. The researchers admit that if they broke it down, the results may well be different among the various ways to brew coffee.