Limit Coffee for Longer Life

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Drinking more than 28 cups of coffee per week was associated with a 56% increase in death for men under age 55

If you’ve gotten into a habit of drinking coffee all day, it may be time to think about cutting back. A preliminary study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that people who habitually drink an average of more than four cups of coffee per day may have a higher risk of death for any reason than people who drink less.

The study drew from data gathered as part of a larger ongoing study called the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. Nearly 44,000 people participated, undergoing a medical examination and answering questions about lifestyle and health on paper and in person. They were then followed for an average of 17 years.

The coffee connection

The researchers who analyzed the data found the following connections:

  • For men under 55 years old, drinking more than 28 cups of coffee per week was associated with a 56% increase in death for any reason (all-cause mortality).
  • Compared to non-coffee drinkers, heavy coffee-drinking women under 55 were more than twice as likely to die during the study.
  • Coffee was not associated with all-cause mortality in men or women over 55.

Coffee’s confounding effects

While coffee has long been blamed for causing an array of health problems, there is little scientific support for its bad reputation. In fact, studies have found that coffee drinkers may have lower risks of depression, liver cancer, and type 2 diabetes than non-coffee drinkers. Some studies have even found that modest coffee consumption (2 to 3 cups per day) is linked to lower rates of heart disease and all-cause mortality.

The findings from this study are preliminary because they come from observation and not a clinical trial. Nevertheless, the study authors reasonably conclude, “On the basis of these findings, it seems appropriate to suggest that younger people avoid heavy coffee consumption,” which they define as an average of more than 4 cups per day.

Cutting down on coffee

Coffee drinkers often experience withdrawal symptoms like headache, fatigue, and foggy headedness when they try to cut back on or quit drinking coffee. If you’re trying to cut down, here are some things that might help:

  • Take it slow. Try using a smaller-size mug, or skipping one of your daily cups every week.
  • Go green. Some people find antioxidant-rich green tea is a nice alternative to coffee, with its low caffeine content and mild taste.
  • Try something new. Herbal teas can give comfort while you transition off of coffee, and a brew made from roasted chicory has a coffee-like flavor—add your favorite whitener and you may not miss coffee at all.

(Mayo Clin Proc 2013:doi:pii: S0025-6196[13]00578-8)

Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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