Good News for Coffee Drinkers: Coffee is Linked to Lower Risk of Death

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
July 8, 2022
Good News for Coffee Drinkers: Coffee is Linked to Lower Risk of Death

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the United States. Americans drink about 400 million cups of coffee every day. That’s more coffee than soda, juice and tea combined.

But if you’re a coffee drinker, you’re probably aware of the controversy that surrounds it. On one hand, it’s credited with health benefits like lowering the risk for type 2 diabetes, skin cancer and Alzheimer’s disease; providing protection against liver disease and helping with weight management. But it’s also associated with insomnia, restlessness, stomach upset and increased heart and breathing rates – and too much sugar-sweetened coffee can lead to weight gain.

Why is there such a discrepancy regarding coffee?    

It’s not easy conducting accurate nutrition studies,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “Long-term randomized trials are the gold standard of health studies. However, randomized trials are not always feasible to answer nutrition questions.” 

As a result, researchers often use observation studies. But results from these studies tend to be less precise than randomized trials and usually can’t confirm a cause and effect. Data is often self-reported by participants, which might not be accurate. And reported foods are often missing important information such as where and how it was made, which can significantly affect nutritional value.

Historically, coffee studies have been observational, assessing the effects black, unsweetened coffee has on specific health issues. And while study results have been mixed, many studies concluded coffee has health benefits. 

However, 45 percent of coffee drinkers sweeten their coffee. Since regular sugar consumption has been linked to a host of health issues, drinking sweetened coffee may negate the benefits of the coffee and possibly have health consequences. 

Researchers from Southern Medical University (Guangzhou, China) evaluated the connection between drinking sugar-sweetened coffee, artificially sweetened and unsweetened coffee and overall death and death from specific causes in comparison to non-coffee drinkers. Results showed that moderate consumption of unsweetened and sugar-sweetened coffee was associated with lower risk for death, according to the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  

Researchers tapped into the UK Biobank health behavior questionnaire to obtain data on 171,616 participants with an average age of 55 and without heart disease or cancer. Basic demographics, lifestyle and dietary habits also were factored into the analysis. 

During the seven-year follow up, researchers found:

  • Participants who drank unsweetened coffee (any amount) had between 16 and 21 percent less likelihood of dying than participants who did not drink coffee. 
  • Participants who drank between 1.5 and 3.5 daily cups of coffee sweetened with one teaspoon of sugar per cup were 29 to 31 percent less likely to die than participants who did not drink coffee. 
  • Results were inconclusive for participants who used artificial sweeteners in their coffee.
  • Results were consistent with other studies.

Study limitations: 

  • Factors such as socioeconomic status and lifestyle behaviors was very difficult to measure, which may have affected study findings.
  • Data was at least 10 years old and collected in China, a country where tea rivals coffee in popularity.
  • One teaspoon of sugar (the amount generally reported per cup of coffee in the study) is less than the amount of sugar in specialty coffee drinks made at chain restaurants. For example, a Grande Mocha Frappucino at Starbucks can have up to 51 grams of sugar or nearly 13 teaspoons. A Short Cappuccino (8 oz.) with Almond Milk has about 1 teaspoon of sugar. This means if you’re consuming specialty coffees drinks you may not reap the same health benefits of the coffee described in this study, which was black unsweetened or sweetened with just one teaspoon of sugar.

“Coffee seems to have some health benefits, particularly if you take it black, but it can’t offset an unhealthy lifestyle,” says Kaminetsky. “If you’re a coffee drinker, let your primary care doctor know. Coffee can interfere with the absorption of certain medications and of course drinking too much, it can lead to some issues.”

If you don’t have a primary care doctor, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. They have time to really work with you and develop a wellness plan that can better focus on limiting or preventing type 2 diabetes. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »   

Similar Posts
When It Comes to Alzheimer’s, Coffee May Be Liquid Gold / Louis B Malinow, M.D. / November 3, 2017
Is Coffee the Next Method of Preventing Skin Cancer? / Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES / June 13, 2015

About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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