If you were to pay heed to the number of people — both in real life and pop culture — who say they need their daily cup of coffee just to wake up and start functioning, you’d probably feel like their lives depended on it, and it is coffee that makes the world go around. If this were alcohol, it would be diagnosed as addiction or alcohol dependence — both medical disorders. But this is coffee we are talking about, and the latest research vindicates those who act as if their lives depended on it.
A study titled Association of Sugar-Sweetened, Artificially Sweetened, and Unsweetened Coffee Consumption With All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality published in the Annals of Internal Medicine earlier this month analysed data of 171,000 people, including their age, sex, ethnicity, educational level, smoking status, physical activity, body mass index, diet and coffee drinking habits. Starting in 2009, the researchers tracked the participants for seven years, during which 3,177 people died.
Also read: What makes a good cup of coffee?
The researchers found that people who drank unsweetened coffee had the lowest risk of death over seven years compared to those who did not drink any. They found that those who drank between 2.5 to 4.5 cups of coffee per day had a 29% lower risk of death. Even those who added sugar to their cuppa had a lower risk of death, especially those who drank between 1.5 to 3.5 cups daily. The trend was less clear for people who used artificial sweeteners. It didn’t matter whether the coffee consumed was instant, ground or decaffeinated.
There have been more studies in the past as well that have suggested the benefits of coffee, including a lower risk of liver disease, stroke, dementia and even certain kinds of cancers. Dr Pankaj Puri, the director of gastroenterology and hepatobiliary sciences at Fortis Escorts Hospital, Okhla in New Delhi, acknowledges that a lot of interest has been generated in the overall beneficial effects of coffee consumption in reducing mortality. “Specifically related to the liver, there is a potential beneficial effect on the severity of liver fibrosis in fatty liver. The optimum quantity and form or preparation method of coffee required to exert this hepatoprotective role remains unclear. Coffee is a complex beverage containing more than 100 compounds. Its protective effects could be due to compounds other than caffeine,” he explains.
Last June, a study was published in the UK Biobank in the BMC Public Health journals that found all coffee types decrease the risk of adverse clinical outcomes in chronic liver disease. A total of 494,585 participants with known coffee consumption, hospital, death and cancer records were included in the study. Among 384,818 coffee drinkers and 109,767 non-coffee drinkers, there were 3,600 cases of chronic liver disease, 5,439 cases of chronic liver disease or steatosis, 184 cases of hepatocellular carcinoma and 301 deaths from chronic liver disease during a median follow-up of 10.7 years. Compared to non-coffee drinkers, coffee drinkers had about 20% lower risk of liver disease, the study found. The coffee drinkers also had a 49% lower risk of dying from chronic liver disease. While all kinds of coffee reduced risk, ground coffee was found to be the best in doing so. An older study had also found that moderate coffee and tea consumption were associated with a lower risk of stroke and dementia. The composition of coffee is influenced by the type of coffee bean and its preparation, said Puri. “Espresso is prepared using high-pressure boiling water through a column of coffee (barista method). This could modify several of its compounds. Infusion or filtration in regular coffee better preserves chlorogenic acids as compared to espresso. The beneficial effect is more with regular coffee as compared to expresso,” Puri contends.
So how much coffee? Puri advises less than two cups a day, while Deswal says everything should be consumed in moderation. “The beneficial effects of coffee are reported for less than 2 cups/day. Incremental beneficial effects have been reported up to 4–6 coffee cups a day.”
Also read: Coffee: To drink it or to drink it not?
However, one must bear in mind that most of these studies, despite employing a large sample size, relied on self-reporting and only asked the participants about their coffee drinking habits only once. “Multiple other factors could have been involved in the study,” cautions Dr Vikas Deswal, senior consultant for internal medicine at Medanta Hospital, Gurugram. “When you drink a large amount of coffee, your heart rate tends to increase, your BP goes up, you become restless, your anxiety goes up, you feel breathless.” Puri also points to the side effects of caffeine, which also include anxiety, headaches, insomnia and the potential risk of dependence.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor, and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.