3 Cups of Coffee a Day Is the Sweet Spot for Health

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A review of more than 200 studies finds that drinking coffee is associated with a lower risk of death and heart disease, in addition to other health benefits.

Ok, so French fries and sugar are out, and alcohol is up in the air. But thankfully, in the ever-meandering science of what’s healthy and what’s not, coffee gets a green light ... unless you’re pregnant or a woman at risk of fracture. And not only is it just ok to drink, but according to a new review of hundreds of studies, it is "more likely to benefit health than to harm it" for a range of health outcomes.

The study, published in the The BMJ, concluded that drinking three to four cups of coffee a day is linked to a lower risk of death and getting heart disease compared with abstaining from coffee. The authors write:

The conclusion of benefit associated with coffee consumption was supported by significant associations with lower risk for the generic outcomes of all cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and total cancer. Consumption was associated with a lower risk of specific cancers, including prostate cancer, endometrial cancer, melanoma, non-melanoma skin cancer, and liver cancer. Consumption also had beneficial associations with metabolic conditions including type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, gallstones, gout, and renal stones and for liver conditions including hepatic fibrosis, cirrhosis, cirrhosis mortality, and chronic liver disease combined. The beneficial associations between consumption and liver conditions stand out as consistently having the highest magnitude compared with other outcomes across exposure categories. Finally, there seems to be beneficial associations between coffee consumption and Parkinson’s disease, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.

They found that the biggest reduction in relative risk of death was at a sweet spot of three cups a day, compared with non-coffee drinkers. Bumping that up to four was not found to have a significant increase in benefit.

While the study didn’t determine the cause of all this goodness, it is suspected that coffee’s bioactive compounds play a role. Notes the study, “Coffee contains a complex mixture of bioactive compounds with plausible biological mechanisms for benefiting health. It has been shown to contribute a large proportion of daily intake of dietary antioxidant, greater than tea, fruit, and vegetables.”

While specific types of coffee and extras like dairy and sugar weren’t mentioned, the study did note that there was less evidence for the effects of decaffeinated coffee, even though it had similar benefits for a number of outcomes.

While some people don’t respond well to coffee – and those people should stay away, along with the aforementioned groups – it seems like good news that one of the world’s most widely consumed beverages is actually healthy. And for those of us who may feel a little guilty about having that third cup, now we can consume with confidence. Even if the authors conclude that more research is needed to understand whether the key observed associations are causal, knowing that there is “no consistent evidence of harmful associations between coffee consumption and health outcomes,” is encouraging. Now if they could just find the same about doughnuts. Meanwhile, find me in the kitchen making another cup.

You can read the whole study here: Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes