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Two new coffee studies spark questions: Here's what you need to know
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Two studies were released earlier this week regarding the health benefits of coffee. - photo by Morgan Jones
Two studies published by the Annals of Internal Medicine this week suggest that coffee consumption has been associated with reduced risk for death.

Here's what you need to know about the studies, including questions the Deseret News posed to Dr. Richard Gilroy, medical director of the liver transplantation program at Intermountain Medical Center, as well as Dr. Julie M. Metos, associate chair of the Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology at the University of Utah, regarding the studies' implications.

  • The first study surveyed more than 520,000 people in 10 European countries and concluded that coffee drinking is associated with reduced risk for death from various causes.
  • Meanwhile, a second study examined the association of coffee consumption with risk for total or cause-specific death in the lives of more than 185,000 people in non-white populations in Hawaii and Los Angeles.
  • The second study agreed with the first study in finding that higher consumption of coffee was associated with lower risk of death in the case of those surveyed, even if the coffee is decaffeinated.
Much discussion has followed, including many discussions regarding caveats about the study itself, and a push by others to focus not on coffee, but on the nation's burgeoning obesity crisis.

One of the study's authors, Marc Gunter, acknowledged that the study might be attributing causation without taking into account other aspects of the participants lifestyle, according to CNBC.

It is plausible that there is something else behind this that is causing this relationship, Gunter said. I wouldnt recommend people start rushing out drinking lots of coffee, but I think what it does suggest drinking coffee certainly does you no harm.

  • It doesnt take into account the financial situation of coffee drinkers as opposed to non-coffee drinkers. It might be that people who can afford three cups of coffee a day are richer and that extra money, in some way, helps protect their health, BBCs Smitha Mundasad wrote.

  • It is unclear whether people who avoid coffee do so because of pre-existing medical conditions.

  • Those who drink coffee might spend more time socializing, which would contribute to their well-being.

  • The BBC points out that while the study did include a large number of people, the researchers excluded anyone who had diabetes, heart attacks or stroke from the start.

  • In exploring the study, the largest to date on the subject, professor Sir David Spiegelhalter told the BBC that if the estimated reductions in death really were down to coffee, then an extra cup of coffee every day would extend the life of a man by around three months and a woman by around a month on average.

Is this a new development?

While this is certainly a new study, Metos of the University of Utah says it simply reaffirms what doctors have believed in recent years in terms of its being beneficial for health, but she says she wouldnt be impressed by living three months longer as an individual.

It probably isnt you should start drinking coffee if you dont, Metos said. And it probably doesnt mean you should quit drinking coffee if you do, but it reinforces what weve known for the last few years, which is that coffee has some health benefits.

Does this study reflect a flip-flop?

CNN reports that the debate regarding the health benefits of coffee dates as far back as the 1500s when it was reported that patrons of coffeehouses were said to be more likely to gamble and engage in criminally unorthodox sexual situations, according to author Ralph Hattox. Since then, headlines have ranged from the positive: Coffee helps you work longer (1700s), Coffee decreases risk of liver cancer (2007), Coffee reduces risk of stroke and prostate cancer (2011) to the negative: Coffee stunts your growth (1916), Coffee will give you bad grades, kids (1927), and the more scientific: Coffee increases risk of urinary tract cancer (2001), Coffee and lung disease go together like coffee and smoking" (2010).

What do health professionals say about coffee?

Those health benefits tend to be antioxidants, Metos said of drinking about three cups of coffee a day. It can increase your blood pressure for a little bit of time, it doesnt increase hypertension but it can be a little energy boost to get moving in the morning or to get engaged in some type of activity, which can be a good thing.

Another good side of coffee is oftentimes people in the United States, on average, dont get enough calcium, so coffee can be a way of sneaking your calcium in.

Are there dangers to drinking coffee?

Metos said that more than three cups of coffee a day can be cause for concern.

Anyone who is drinking a lot more than that we look at it to see if thats influencing them to eat a less healthful diet or decreasing their appetite. Sometimes in older people they drink a bunch of coffee or tea, it decreases their appetite and if theyre having problems with having a healthy weight, it can kind of decrease their appetite and when youre already a skinny little elderly person that can be bad, Metos said, adding that coffee can have similar effects on children as well as affect their concentration and growth.

Another concern related to coffee is the increasing popularity of coffee drinks as opposed to a simple cup of coffee.

The things that arent so helpful about coffee are that coffee is usually packaged with sugar, Metos said. People drink a lot of frappacinos and things from Starbucks where sometimes they dont get decaf or sometimes not even any coffee in them but they have a lot of calories and fat and sugar and are more like a milkshake, so that would be a downside to coffee.
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