A forthcoming article in the British Journal of Nutrition, published online on December 6, 2007, reported the finding of Finnish researchers that an increased intake of coffee is associated with lower mortality over a 14.5 year period.
Dr Pertti Happonen and associates evaluated data from 311 men and 506 women born during or before 1920 who were part of a large study intended to evaluate falls in older individuals. Physical examinations were conducted upon enrollment between 1991 and 1992, and questionnaires were completed concerning smoking status, the presence of diabetes, amount of coffee intake, and other information. A second questionnaire was completed two to three years later. The participants were followed for mortality through 2005.
Over the follow-up period, 251 deaths occurred among the men, and 372 among women. For total mortality from all causes, and mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other or unknown causes, there was an association observed between the number of cups of coffee consumed and a decrease in the risk of death. Compared with drinking one to two cups coffee per day, each added cup lowered the risk of mortality by an average of 4 percent. When the follow-up period was divided into five year periods, the strength of coffee’s effect appeared to diminish during the final years of the study, although the researchers add that there was not enough evidence to conclude a constant linear decrease.
In an attempt to provide possible mechanisms for the finding, the authors list several diseases shown to be inversely associated with coffee intake, including Alzheimer’s disease, breast and colorectal cancer, asthma, and diabetes. They note that increased antioxidant capacity is one of coffee’s potential mechanisms against disease, and remark that the polyphenols in coffee are the greatest source of antioxidants in the diet of the Nordic population studied in this research. The effects of caffeine, as well, may have an impact on total mortality.
“The present study in a representative sample of older adults strengthens the findings in some previous studies among middle-aged individuals of a beneficial effect of moderate or heavy coffee consumption on the risk of death,” the authors conclude. “We expect results from more detailed studies in larger study populations to provide more insight about the advantages and disadvantages of coffee consumption, and to set critical recommendations of optimal consumption with regard to health.”