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Good News for Caffeine Addicts: Coffee May Help Extend Your Life

November 19, 2015

Coffee, the “Elixir of the Gods,” kickstarts the days of more than 100 million Americans, and more than half of us say we’re more or less addicted to the stuff.

For this dependence, we sometimes feel guilt and shame, probably due in part to the common but unsubstantiated claim that coffee is somehow bad for our health. After all, can something so delicious and effective at sharpening our focus be good for us?

Indeed it can. And coffee is, scientists now tell us. And here’s the crazy part: the health benefits may increase the more cups we enjoy.

Let’s run through some of the main health benefits of a cup (or four):

It may extend your life.

That’s right: in at least two studies, including one released just this week, coffee drinkers have been shown to live longer than non-coffee drinkers. A study out of the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who drink three to five cups of coffee a day had a 15 percent less chance of premature death than those who didn’t drink coffee. This supports the findings of a 2012 study from the National Cancer Institute in which coffee drinkers were shown to live longer than non-coffee drinkers.

It fights off Type 2 diabetes.

With more than 15 studies suggesting that coffee consumption is associated with diabetes prevention, this point is one of the more rock-solid health benefits to prove. In 2005, a team of Harvard researchers reviewed nine of these studies, finding that those who drink six or seven cups of coffee daily were 35 percent less likely to have type 2 diabetes than those who drank fewer than two cups a day.

It may fight off cancer.

In several studies, coffee drinkers were less susceptible to certain cancers—including prostate, oral cancer, and recurrence of breast cancer. Keep in mind this is an association rather than a cause and effect, and that scientists aren’t sure why the association is occurring.

It may help prevent strokes.

A 2013 American Heart Association study of more than 80,000 Japanese men and women concluded that a daily cup of green tea or coffee resulted in a 20 percent lower risk of stroke.

It may help stave off Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

One of the longest-known associations between coffee drinking and better health is that with Parkinson’s disease. As early as 1968, studies were showing an inverse relation between the effects of Parkinson’s and coffee consumption. This was supported by a 2010 review of the available data which found that regularly drinking two to three cups daily cuts a person’s risk of Parkinson’s disease by as much as 25 percent.

Coffee may strengthen brain health as well. In an experiment performed on mice in 2012, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that when mice were temporarily starved of oxygen and lost the ability to form new memories, those who were given caffeine regained their ability to form new memories 33 percent faster than the non-caffeinated mice. This has significant implications on treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Now, let’s go refill our mug, shall we?

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats, TakePart.com, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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