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Drinking coffee and tea can help you age better

A recent study found that middle-aged people who consumed higher amounts of caffeine were less likely to be physically frail in their later years

Drinking four cups of coffee a day is beneficial for health as per the study
Drinking four cups of coffee a day is beneficial for health as per the study (Unsplash/Nathan Dumlao)

In a few days another year will come to pass and we will age a little more. But here’s some good news to take the edge of this grim reality and jump into the new year all happy and excited. A study conducted by researchers at the National University of Singapore found that higher consumption of caffeine at midlife, via coffee and tea, was associated with a reduced likelihood of physical frailty in later life.  Simply put, coffee is good for you and those who drink the beverage are physically less frail in their old age compared to those who don’t drink any. This holds true for tea as well. 

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Physical frailty is an age-related medical syndrome characterised by diminished strength, endurance, and reduced physiological function and it increases an individual's vulnerability for dependency and/or death, explains Fiona Sampat, clinical dietitian at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai.

The study published in the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-term Care Medicine tracked 12,538 participants with a mean age of 53 and did three follow-ups in 20 years when the participants’ mean age was 73. They evaluated the habitual coffee and tea consumption of participants and assessed physical frailty in the third and final follow-up. The researchers concluded that those who drank four cups of coffee daily had reduced odds of physical frailty in old age compared to those who didn’t drink any. Similar results were valid for tea drinkers versus those who didn’t drink tea every day. The researchers noted that this could be because of caffeine content in coffee and tea but further studies are needed to investigate if other compounds found in these beverages also play a significant role.

Studies have shown that regular coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of physical problems in old age, says Vaishali Verma, dietitian at HCMCT Manipal Hospital, Dwarka. “Another study published in the Journal of Geriatric Oncology, shows that coffee drinkers have better muscle strength and are faster than non-coffee drinkers. It also suggests that coffee may help protect against sarcopenia,” says Verma.

Coffee contains caffeine and polyphenols, which are rich sources of bioactive chemicals with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. Caffeine is a stimulant, which increases mental alertness and focus along with improving concentration and mood by altering the levels of various neurotransmitters including dopamine and adenosine, says Sampat. “Moreover, the caffeine in coffee is a proven ergogenic aid too. It helps increase endurance, athletic performance and physical activity levels. Coffee is also rich in antioxidants such as chlorogenic, ferulic, caffeic, and n-coumaric acids that help fight inflammation. Other studies have also linked moderate coffee consumption to reduced risk of liver scarring, liver cancer and liver cirrhosis,” she adds.

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While coffee’s popularity and the coffee-drinking population are growing at a fast clip, two-thirds of the world's population drinks tea. There are three types of tea depending on how the leaves are picked and processed: oolong (semi-fermented), green (non-fermented), and black (fermented), points out Sampat. “Different teas have different benefits. Like coffee, tea (especially green tea) is also an extremely rich source of antioxidants, which helps fight inflammation and reduce the risk of various types of cancers and heart disease. Tea is also associated with improved metabolic and cardiovascular health. The anti-inflammatory properties combined with presence of catechins and their effect on the lipid metabolism help cut risks of various cardiovascular diseases. The caffeine content in tea is less than that of coffee but it has the same effect as coffee does on alertness and focus,” adds Sampat.

Despite all the positives of coffee and tea, excessive intake of either can lead to side effects, warn doctors, nutritionists and dieticians. Too much coffee may cause insomnia, anxiety, increased heart rate, and digestive issues, anaemia while excessive tea consumption, particularly strong black tea, may lead to excess caffeine intake and related side effects such as high blood pressure, warns Shweta Gupta, head dietician, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi. 

“It’s essential to moderate caffeine intake and be mindful of your caffeine tolerance levels. Coffee can also act as a diuretic when consumed in excess leading to dehydration. Additionally, both coffee and tea can stain your teeth. Ingesting too many caffeinated beverages can also cause gastric disturbances such nausea and heart burn. When consumed along with snacks, it leads to consumption of extra calories,” warns Gupta. Ultimately, balance is the key for enjoying the benefits of coffee and tea while minimising risks.

Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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