An exciting new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that drinking coffee may add years to your lifespan - but it’s not because of the caffeine.
In this study, researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US explored coffee drinking habits and their impact on mortality in middle-aged subjects. They enrolled over 400,000 healthy people between the ages of 50 and 71, who completed a detailed questionnaire about their diet and lifestyle habits.
First, each participant's coffee consumption was noted. They were then followed for a total of 13 years, during which period over 33,000 men and nearly 19,000 women died of various causes. Initially the raw data seemed to suggest that risk of death was higher among coffee drinkers. But coffee drinkers were more likely to smoke cigarettes, which skewed the data.
After the researchers adjusted for smoking and other factors, they found a very strong association - simply put, the more coffee people drank, the less likely they were to die.
Remarkably, this risk reduction applied to what epidemiologists call ‘all-cause mortality’. In other words, regular coffee drinking led to a markedly lower risk of dying for any reason at all, including from heart and lung disease, stroke, diabetes and infections. It even applied to the risk of dying from injuries and accidents.
Interestingly, coffee drinking had a protective effect regardless of whether people drank caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee. Clearly caffeine was not the protective component in coffee.
Polyphenols are the best alternative candidates. They are powerful antioxidants and can also modulate gene expression, regulating how much and how often a particular gene is "switched on." That means polyphenols can control many fundamental processes, including signaling that tells cells when to die, when to replicate, when to respond to chemical signals, etc.
In other words, coffee can influence issue repair, immunity, and the body's ability to maintain itself in a steady state, called homeostasis.
Of the over 1,000 different natural compounds in coffee, one in particular - chlorogenic acid - has many health benefits including preventing after-meal sugar surges that contribute to obesity and diabetes.
Green coffee beans may possess up to 10% of dry weight chlorogenic acids, making coffee the major source of chlorogenic acid in the average person’s diet.
Like other polyphenols, chlorogenic acid lowers chronic inflammation associated with common diseases of aging, such as diabetes and atherosclerosis. Chlorogenic acid in roasted coffee protects cells with high fat content, like brain cells - explaining why coffee sustains cognition.
Other coffee polyphenols beneficially influence the function of liver and fat cells, reducing the impact of obesity and diabetes. Reduction of DNA damage is the most likely mechanism by which coffee consumption lowers risk for cancer.
However, studies show that larger amounts, ranging from 4 to as many as 12 cups a day provide the most protective benefits - including reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, liver disease, and Alzheimer's disease.
It's hard if not impossible to drink that much coffee without developing side effects such as heart palpitations and upset stomachs - but there may be a way around this.
Some researchers have found a way to ‘supercharge’ coffee, dramatically increasing its healthy polyphenol content, which means people can get more health benefits from drinking less coffee.
And for those people who can't drink coffee at all, standardized chlorogenic acid capsules are becoming enormously popular.
So go get yourself a cup of your favorite coffee already. You’ll live longer.