Two new studies, including the largest ever conducted into coffee drinking, have found that even a single cup a day reduces the risk of dying early from any cause.
It also drastically cuts the chance of death from digestive problems.
The study revealed that people who consumed just one 350ml cup each day cut their risk of dying early by 12% over 16 years, while three cups reduced the risk by 18%.
Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, calculated from the results that a cup of coffee a day extended the average life of a man by three months and a woman by a month.
“Pro-rata, that’s as if that cup of coffee puts, on average, around nine minutes on a man’s life, and around three minutes on a woman’s. So perhaps we should relax and enjoy it,” he said.
According to researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Southern California (USC), who conducted the studies, the protective effect of coffee is possible because it contains antioxidants and health boosting compounds which combat insulin resistance, lower inflammation and improve liver function.
“If you like to drink coffee, drink up. If you’re not a coffee drinker, then you need to consider if you should start,” said Dr Veronica Setiawan, associate professor of preventative medicine at USC.
“Coffee contains a lot of antioxidants and phenolic compounds that play an important role in cancer prevention.
“Although this study does not show causation or point to what chemicals in coffee may have this ‘elixir effect,’ it is clear that coffee can be incorporated into a healthy diet and lifestyle.”
In the Imperial study, researchers analysed data from more than 500,000 people aged 35 or over from 10 EU countries, including the UK, France, Denmark and Italy, for 16 years.
Just under 42,000 people in the study had died from a range of conditions including cancer, circulatory diseases, heart failure and stroke.
Researchers found that the group with the highest consumption of coffee had a lower risk for all-causes of death, compared to those who did not drink coffee.
Lifestyle factors such as diet and smoking were taken into account.
Men who drank at least two and a half cups a day reduced their risk by 12% and women by 7%.
It also reduced the risk of dying from digestive diseases by 51% for men, and 40% for women, and lowered the risk of death from circulatory disease for women by 22%.
The team also analysed metabolic biomarkers in 14,000 participants, and found that coffee drinkers have healthier livers overall and better glucose control than non-coffee drinkers.
“We found that higher coffee consumption was associated with a lower risk of death from any cause, and specifically for circulatory diseases, and digestive diseases,” said lead author Dr Marc Gunter of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and formerly at Imperial’s School of Public Health.
“We found that drinking more coffee was associated with a more favourable liver function profile and immune response.
“This, along with the consistency of the results with other studies in the US and Japan gives us greater confidence that coffee may have beneficial health effects.
“Our results suggest that moderate coffee drinking – up to around three cups per day – is not detrimental to your health, and that incorporating coffee into your diet could have health benefits.”