Science-backed benefits of coffee from living longer to a reduced risk of heart disease

The health benefits of coffee are being celebrated for International Coffee Day. (Getty Images)
The health benefits of coffee are being celebrated for International Coffee Day. (Getty Images)

Every coffee lover knows that the brown stuff is literally the elixir of life. But while we credit a caffeine hit for helping us get through the day, there’s some other more surprising benefits to our daily cups of the brown stuff, including potentially helping us to live longer.

Recent research has revealed drinking two cups of coffee a day, even decaf, is linked to a longer life and reduced risk of heart disease.

Whether ground, instant or decaffeinated, those who sup two or three cups a day could have a longer lifespan and lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who don’t drink any.

And coffee snobs take note that instant actually gives the highest protection, followed by decaffeinated and then ground.

Researchers at the European Society of Cardiology studied half a million people over 12.5 years and concluded the drink should be part of a healthy lifestyle.

The health benefits of coffee

While coffee doesn't claim to be a magical cure-all, research has shown there are certain health and wellbeing benefits that can be gleaned from a steaming cup of Joe.

So in order to mark International Coffee Day (October 1), here's some science-backed reasons to keep chugging the coffee, in moderation of course.

Research has shown coffee has some positive health benefits. (Getty Images)
Research has shown coffee has some positive health benefits. (Getty Images)

It could help you live longer

The research, detailed above, isn’t the first time we’ve been celebrating a potential link between coffee consumption and life expectancy.

A previous study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that besides making us feel a little wired, drinking three cups of coffee a day could add years to our lives.

After adjusting for lifestyle factors, such as smoking and diet, the scientists found that those who drank the most coffee had a lower risk of death in comparison to those who spent their lives coffee free.

And further research found that people who drink two to three cups per day have a 12% lower risk of early death than people who don't drink coffee at all.

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It could protect against certain cancers

Research, from 2019, found that a diet rich in coffee, fruit and vegetables could help protect women against breast cancer, new research suggests.

The study, presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow, found that a diet full of phenolic acids provides a protective effect on the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer.

Phenolic acids are found in coffee, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Coffee may also protect the liver from cancer, with one research paper finding that people who drink more coffee are less likely to develop hepatocellular cancer (HCC), the most common form of primary liver cancer.

People who drank two cups a day have a 35% reduced risk, but for those who drank five cups, the risk was halved.

Lead author Dr Oliver Kennedy, of the University of Southampton, said: "Coffee is widely believed to possess a range of health benefits, and these latest findings suggest it could have a significant effect on liver cancer risk.

"We’re not suggesting that everyone should start drinking five cups of coffee a day though. There needs to be more investigation into the potential harms of high coffee-caffeine intake, and there is evidence it should be avoided in certain groups such as pregnant women.

"Nevertheless, our findings are an important development given the increasing evidence of HCC globally and its poor prognosis."

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Drinking coffee, in moderation, could provide many health benefits. (Getty Images)
Drinking coffee, in moderation, could provide many health benefits. (Getty Images)

It could protect your brain

Chugging back the coffee could help keep your brain healthy according to research, published in Clinical Nutrition, which found coffee could help to halt brain degeneration over time.

As a result, the hot (or cold) drink could help prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

A Chinese research team investigated the effects of one to two cups of coffee per day on the risk of later experiencing a cognitive disorder.

They found that drinking small amounts of coffee — one to two cups per day — was associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline. However, drinking more than that did not decrease risk at all.

This isn’t the first study to look at coffee and neurodegenerative diseases. A 2018 study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience found a similar association between coffee consumption and a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

And further research found drinking coffee or its sister beverage, tea, may be linked with a lower risk of stroke and dementia.

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It may protect your liver

Aside from pepping you up for a day of work, a couple of cappuccinos may also help protect your liver. Recent research, published in the journal BMC Public Health, found that people who drink coffee daily have a lower risk of developing and dying from liver disease.

The study analysed data from more than 495,000 people in the UK over a median of 10 years. They tracked which people developed chronic liver disease and related liver conditions.

Compared to non-coffee drinkers, people who drink coffee had a 21% reduced risk of chronic liver disease and a 20% reduced risk of chronic or fatty liver disease. They were also much less likely to die from chronic liver disease if they did contract it.

Dr JW Langer, expert at the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC) explains that the correlation might be down to the presence of polyphenols – a type of micronutrient – in coffee.

"Polyphenols exhibit anti-inflammatory effects and counteract long standing harmful inflammation," he explains.

"Indeed, the association with a reduced risk of liver disease and type 2 diabetes have suggested that an anti-inflammatory effect may be important in these conditions.

"Polyphenols are also metabolised by the gut microbiome to other substances with cholesterol-lowering, blood-pressure lowering and liver-protection effects."

Coffee could have positive impacts on wellbeing, including happiness. (Getty Images)
Coffee could have positive impacts on wellbeing, including happiness. (Getty Images)

It could help to reduce blood pressure

Consuming up to four cups of coffee on a daily basis could help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, a study has found.

Scientists discovered both “an association between coffee consumption and a decreased risk of type two diabetes" and that "long-term coffee consumption is associated with a decreased risk of hypertension", in a study conducted jointly by research teams at the universities of Navarre in Spain and Catania in Italy.

This is because a “moderate consumption” of the popular hot drink was positively associated with lowered metabolic syndrome risk – reducing an individual’s risk by an average of by 26%.

Metabolic syndrome is an umbrella term for a number of conditions that often occur together and increase the risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease. This includes obesity, high blood pressure, high blood triglycerides, low levels of HDL cholesterol and insulin resistance.

Decaf fans rejoice! You can also reap the benefits of coffee drinking even if yours is sans caffeine – with scientists noting the same benefits with both caffeinated and decaffeinated kinds.

But be warned: any more than this and you could lose the benefit altogether, as any positive effects from coffee consumption disappeared after more than four cups.

Watch: 5 tips for keeping your caffeine consumption in check

It could aid weight loss

In what could be the best potential benefit, recent research suggested our favourite caffeinated drink might be the key to aiding weight loss.

Researchers, University of Nottingham, found coffee might help the body to burn calories.

It does this through stimulating certain fat cells – known as brown adipose tissue – into releasing their energy.

The study used thermal imaging to monitor participants’ brown fat reserves, with results revealing that drinking coffee had a positive effect on the cells’ ability to generate heat, burning energy in the process.

In another potential coffee/weight loss association, coffee has been linked to ergogenic effects on your exercise performance, which means it could improve your endurance if you chug it before hitting the gym.

One study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, saw researchers adding caffeine into exercisers' routine before they worked out. Those in the caffeine group rated their workouts as easier and more enjoyable than those who did not. Additionally, the caffeinated group ate, on average, 72 fewer calories that same day.

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Coffee could have positive impacts on wellbeing, including happiness. (Getty Images)
Coffee could have positive impacts on wellbeing, including happiness. (Getty Images)

It could give you a happiness hit

Previous American research found that women who drink two or more cups of coffee a day are less likely to get depressed.

The study, of over 50,000 women and published medical journal Archives of Internal Medicine, found that the more caffeinated coffee women drank, the lower their risk of developing depression, with researchers suggesting that the caffeine in coffee may alter the brain’s chemistry.

However, before you stick the kettle on, it's worth noting that the research did have several limitations and should not be taken as conclusive evidence that coffee can prevent depression.

It is possible the results are a case of ‘reverse causation’ and that the women who were depressed avoided drinking coffee. Other factors such as family history or other circumstances may also have influenced the risk of depression.

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Coffee could have some protective properties against cancer, but experts don't recommend drinking too much. (Getty Images)
Coffee could have some protective properties against cancer, but experts don't recommend drinking too much. (Getty Images)

How to make the most of coffee's benefits

While there are plenty of perceived benefits of coffee, experts are also keen to stress it isn't a a magic bullet and should be enjoyed in moderation.

According to the European Food Safety Authority’s review of caffeine safety a safe coffee intake can be defined as three to five cups per day.

Dr Langer also recommends cutting down on added sugars in your coffees and only using skimmed milk, if any at all, due to the calorie intake, which could inhibit any perceived plus points.

It is also important to keep in mind the limitations of some of the research into coffee's potential health benefits.

"Like most other nutritional studies, the coffee studies are so called observational, meaning that a large group of people are followed for several years," Dr Langer explains.

"Implied in the observational study design of the research, the data cannot fully exclude that other lifestyle factors beside drinking coffee may contribute to the observed health benefits.

"Perhaps a healthier diet or a more consistent exercise routine play a role. Conclusions from these studies can never be definitive."

That being said many experts, including Dr Langer, remain convinced that from a scientific viewpoint low to moderate coffee intake is associated with a reduced risk for and sometimes lower mortality of a large number of health conditions.

"In my opinion as a physician, an important and reassuring finding from the studies [about the health benefits of coffee] is that a regular moderate intake of coffee does not seem to be harmful for most people," Dr Langer explains.

"You can enjoy coffee as part of a healthy diet without concern."

So go forth and enjoy another frothy Frappuccino folks.