Here’s a news flash: Americans really, really love coffee.
Yes, we’re sure you’re surprised and astounded by this totally unexpected news. After all, Americans only drink nearly 600 million cups of coffee a day.
But wait, there’s more! It turns out that coffee is actually good for you and may very well prolong your life.
That’s the conclusion of a study published in the British Medical Journal. It concludes that people who drink three or four cups of java a day are more likely to see health benefits than harm. They’ll likely have a lower risk of premature death, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, cancer or dementia.
So go ahead, pour yourself another cuppa joe.
This research was an “umbrella review” that collated evidence from 200 previous studies based on observational research and 17 studies based on clinical trials.
Because there’s so much confusing and contradictory medical news flying around out there, we asked Dr. Karna Patel to help us put this in perspective. He specializes in family medicine and practices with the Tampa General Medical Group.
It’s important not to overstate the importance of this study’s findings, he said. None of this proves that coffee is some kind of magical, super-healing wonder drug.
Especially in the observational studies that were reviewed, there could be other factors besides coffee consumption that are affecting the research subjects’ health.
“There are a lot of things other than just drinking coffee that we do on a daily basis,” Dr. Patel said. “What I take from this kind of study is that we are showing that coffee isn’t harmful.”
The short-term benefits and drawbacks of coffee are well-known, he said. On the plus side, coffee improves mental alertness, cognitive thinking and even athletic performance. On the downside, drinking too much of it can prevent you from falling asleep when you need to.
The study in the British Medical Journal found that three or four cups a day confer the greatest benefit. Drinking more than three or four cups wasn’t found to be harmful, but the benefits were less pronounced. (The exception is for pregnant women, who should stick to a cup or less of coffee each day.)
The study, conducted by a research team at Britain’s University of Southampton, also linked coffee with a lower risk of several cancers, including prostate, endometrial, skin and liver cancer, as well as diabetes, gallstones, gout, and cirrhosis of the liver.
The team cautioned that because they reviewed mostly observational data, they couldn’t draw firm conclusions about cause and effect.
“Every person is different,” Dr. Patel said. “One person may benefit from two cups of coffee a day. One person may benefit from four.”
“Another person may get heartburn or palpitations. A heart patient with an arrhythmia or a heart murmur may be harmed.”
More important than drinking coffee, he said, are the fundamental things that will really lengthen your lifespan: Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, control stress, get enough sleep.
“We underestimate those things -- the simple, basic things that you can do to maintain your quality of life.”