Coffee drinking linked to lower death risk – even with sugar

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  • Your daily cups of coffee may be linked to a lower risk of dying, a new study suggests.
  • Benefits were seen even in participants who sweetened their coffee with sugar.
  • However, while this was a good quality study, these results are observational and should be interpreted with caution.

Many of us around the globe love coffee, whether for the energy boost, the flavour, or just the smell. But here’s news that will warm your heart: being a moderate coffee drinker may put you at an advantage of a lower risk of dying than non-coffee drinkers – even if you take your coffee with sugar.

That’s what researchers at Southern Medical University in China are saying. According to their findings, participants who drank 1.5 to 3.5 cups of coffee per day, even with a teaspoon of sugar, were up to 30% less likely to die during the study period than those who didn’t drink coffee. 

Those who drank unsweetened coffee were between 16 to 21% less likely to die during the study period. Participants who had about three cups of coffee per day had the lowest risk of dying compared with non-coffee drinkers.

These findings were consistent even after the researchers adjusted for sociodemographic, lifestyle, and clinical factors.

Writing in The Annals of Internal Medicine, they explained: “Moderate consumption of unsweetened and sugar-sweetened coffee was associated with lower risk for death,” but whether there was an association between artificially sweetened coffee and a lower risk of death was less clear.

Caffeinated or decaffeinated?

The research team surveyed just over 171 600 participants in the UK. All the participants completed five questionnaires up to five times a year about their lifestyle, including their coffee-drinking habits. 

The researchers then looked up death certificates (a median follow-up of seven years later) to find out who had died. The participants, 37 to 73 years old, had no cardiovascular disease or cancer when completing the first survey. 

Interestingly, the death risk remained lower for those who drank both decaffeinated and caffeinated coffee. 

Observational study

Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages worldwide, and, “according to a 2022 estimate, Americans drink 517 million cups of coffee per day,” Dr Christina Wee, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, wrote in an accompanying editorial. Wee is a deputy editor of the journal where the study was published.

She cautioned, however, that this was an observational study, so the findings cannot conclusively prove that coffee itself lowers the risk of dying. In other words, Wee explained that other lifestyle factors may be what contributed to the lower mortality risk among the participants studied, such as a healthy diet.

What about lattes?

The average amount of sugar added to a coffee by an average drinker in the study was one teaspoon. If the study is replicated and its findings supported, this would mean that other warm beverages ordered at coffee shops may not have the same benefit.

For example, a tall Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks contains 25 grams of sugar, The New York Times reports,  and the researchers explain that this is around five times as much sugar as a sweetened cup of coffee from the study.

"If you're only adding about one teaspoon of sugar to your coffee, the benefits of coffee that we think are there aren't completely negated by that one teaspoon," wrote Wee.

Like most things in life, moderation is key, so it's worth bearing in mind that excessive coffee consumption is never healthy. In the study, the benefits of coffee drinking were less prominent in people who drank more than 4.5 cups every day. Research also indicates that having more than five cups per day is associated with negative effects

READ | Coffee and cholesterol: Espresso worse for men, filter coffee for women

READ | Tea or coffee? Science weighs in on hot beverages

READ | Your daily coffee may benefit your heart and help you live longer, new study shows

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