By Miriam Latto

(From Compete Magazine September 2012 issue)

If you love your coffee but worry about potential health problems associated with increased amounts of coffee and caffeine, pour yourself another cup! Several recent studies done around coffee consumption all appear to favor coffee drinkers. In the first study, if you’re a big coffee drinker you may live longer according to research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This 14-year longitudinal study (from 1995 until 2008) analyzed diet and health information from questionnaires filled out by members of the American Association of Retired Persons; 229,119 men and 173, 141 women.

Researchers found that regular coffee drinkers had lots of behaviors associated with poor health – they were more likely to be smokers who ate more red meat and fewer fruits and vegetables; they also exercised less and drank more alcohol, findings which caused researchers to control for those risks. Even though 52,000 participants died over the course of the study, the data showed that the more coffee a person consumed, the less likely he or she was to die from a number of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, infections and even injuries and accidents.

The risk of dying over the study period was about 10 percent lower for men and about 15 percent lower for women who drank anywhere from two-to-six or more cups of coffee a day. And the association between coffee and lower risk of dying was similar whether the coffee drinker consumed caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee.

Neal D. Freedman, lead author of the study and an investigator for the National Cancer Institute, cautioned that these findings based on observational data only show an association between drinking coffee and a lower risk for disease — it’s not known whether drinking more coffee will lead to better health. Additional research will continue to analyze associations between coffee drinking and various types of cancer. Freedman says the next step is to learn more about the estimated 1,000 or more compounds in coffee and how they may be related to improved health.

In another recent study by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, results appear to show a relationship between increased coffee intake (more being better in this case) and the decreased risk of basal cell carcinoma, the most common skin cancer. This type of carcinoma joins a list of other conditions for which risk is decreased with increasing coffee consumption, including Type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, according to study researcher Jiali Han, Ph.D., associate professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston and Harvard School of Public Health. However, there was no link identified between increased coffee or caffeine consumption and squamous cell carcinoma or melanoma, two other types of skin cancer. Again, there appeared to be no difference between drinking regular or decaffeinated coffee.

In yet a third study, the Mayo Clinic reports that there is such a thing as too much caffeine. They say that consuming heavy amounts of caffeine daily (500-600 milligrams/day or more) can lead to muscle tremors, insomnia, irritability, restlessness and even an upset stomach. But they also noted that consuming 200-300 milligrams/day – the equivalent of about four cups of coffee – for adults isn’t detrimental to one’s health.