Before you pour that next cup, coffee drinkers, have you heard all the health news on your beverage of choice? Some studies give java high marks, while others recommend cutting back. With all that back-and-forth, it can be hard to track the mixed buzz around coffee.
Historically, there has been concern that coffee was unhealthy, particularly for people with certain medical conditions, such as heart disease. However, new studies cast doubt on this long-held belief. A recent study of more than 500,000 Europeans found that drinking coffee was associated with a reduced risk of death from various causes. Another study reviewing the scientific literature found that drinking three to four cups of black coffee daily provides the greatest health benefits overall, though it contained caveats for pregnant women and women with a higher likelihood of bone fractures.
While the latest research might sound great for committed coffee-drinkers, Dr. Michael D. Horowitz, National Medical Director for Optum Health, said it’s not quite that simple. The research shows that coffee consumption was associated with a lower risk of death. However, it can’t say that coffee was the reason that people lived longer. “There are just too many other variables,” Dr. Horowitz said.
Clearly, getting to the bottom of coffee’s impact on overall health can be complicated. It is muddied further by the fact that habits of coffee drinkers are difficult to study, Dr. Horowitz said. “First, researchers have no way to control or monitor coffee consumption. Second, these studies rely on participants self-reporting, which is subject to memory and many forms of bias.”
Even with the conflicting historical data, Dr. Horowitz said it probably is reasonable to conclude that coffee is not harmful. It’s premature to say it improves health and longevity, but it may ultimately be determined to be good for us, he said. He added that if there do turn out to be benefits, one would have to believe those are related to the active ingredient: caffeine.
Another important point to keep in mind is that the debate is specifically about coffee – not the flavor shots and milk you may be adding. Dr. Horowitz said “Sugar and creamer may add substantial calories and fat to an otherwise calorie free beverage. The impact of sugar will be particularly important for people with diabetes or those trying to cut back on calories.”
“If a person enjoys drinking coffee, they should do so for that reason alone,” Dr. Horowitz said. “It is probably not detrimental. It may be beneficial. But it is not really reasonable to drink coffee for its possible benefits if one really doesn't like the experience of coffee drinking.”