Adults who drank four cups of coffee a day had a 64% lower risk of dying during a new 10-year Spanish study, compared to those who rarely or never drank the beverage. The link between coffee and reduced mortality risk was strongest for people over 45, the authors say, suggesting that the drink’s protective elements are even more important in older age.
The new research, presented Sunday at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Barcelona, has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. Previous studies have suggested that coffee consumption reduces the risk of early death from all causes, but this provided some additional insights into how coffee might affect people of different ages.
For the study, researchers analyzed health data and food-frequency questionnaires from nearly 20,000 Spanish university graduates who were involved in a long-term research project and followed for an average of 10 years.
Those who drank the most coffee (four or more cups a day) were 64% less likely to die during the study than those who drank the least (seldom or never) coffee. Overall, every two cups of coffee people consumed per day was associated with a 22% lower risk of death over 10 years.
That association remained even when the researchers controlled for factors including gender, smoking status, and whether the coffee drinkers added sugar to their coffee.
When the researchers looked at different age groups, they also found that the benefits were largely confined to older participants: For adults who were at least 45 when the study began, every two cups of coffee per day was associated with a 30% lower risk of dying over the next 10 years. In those younger than 45, there was no significant effect in either lowering or increasing mortality.
The study could not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between coffee consumption and mortality rates. Lead author Dr. Adela Navarro, a cardiologist at Hospital de Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, says the results do, however, suggest that coffee may have a stronger protective effect among older adults. Drinking four cups of coffee a day “can be part of a healthy diet in healthy people,” she says. That endorsement echoes a similar conclusion published in Food and Chemical Toxicology earlier this year, which found that up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day (about four 8-ounce cups of coffee) is safe for most people.
Two studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in July also found that regular coffee consumption was associated with a reduced risk of death—one in a U.S. population that included African-American, Japanese-Americans, Latino, and white participants, and one in a European population spanning 10 countries.
What components in coffee could be contributing to longevity in older people? “Besides caffeine, coffee contains several bioactive compounds with potential beneficial properties,” Navarro said Sunday during her presentation—including compounds that are known to fight inflammation, a common contributor to age-related health problems. And because of coffee’s popularity around the world, she added, “even a small health effect could have important public health consequences.”
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