Coffee: A Healthy Antioxidant or Precipitator of Disease and Early Mortality?

It wasn’t too long ago that the relationship between coffee consumption, health and mortality were commonly discussed by primary care physicians and their caffeinated, coffee-drinking patients. Hypertension was the main concern, as it is with all stimulants. However, research in the past decade is telling a different story. Coffee drinking in Europe is different than in the U.S., where brewed, pre-ground coffee is still the mainstay of consumption. European populations vary considerably in their coffee preferences and rituals and sheer per capita consumption. A recent study by Gunter MJ, et al., of 10 European countries, consisting of 521,330 participants from the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) database, were analyzed for all-cause mortality.

Analysis, which included hazard ratios (HRs) at a 95% confidence interval (CI) using multivariable Cox proportional hazards models of coffee consumption via serum biomarkers of liver function, inflammation and metabolic health, were evaluated in the EPIC biomarkers subcohort (n = 14 800).

The results were surprising.Ask the Expert

Is Coffee a Preventative Medicine?

During a follow-up of 16.4 years, 41,693 deaths occurred among the EPIC participants. Participants in the highest quartile of coffee consumption had statistically significantly lower all-cause mortality compared to non-coffee drinkers (men: HR, 0.88 [95% CI, 0.82 to 0.95]; P for trend < 0.001; women: HR, 0.93 [CI, 0.87 to 0.98]; P for trend = 0.009).

Similar inverse associations were observed for digestive disease mortality for men (HR, 0.41 [CI, 0.32 to 0.54]; P for trend < 0.001) and women (HR, 0.60 [CI, 0.46 to 0.78]; P for trend < 0.001). Among women, there was a statistically significant protective association of coffee drinking with circulatory disease mortality (HR, 0.78 [CI, 0.68 to 0.90]; P for trend < 0.001) and cerebrovascular disease mortality (HR, 0.70 [CI, 0.55 to 0.90]; P for trend = 0.002). A small but positive association with ovarian cancer mortality (HR, 1.31 [CI, 1.07 to 1.61]; P for trend = 0.015) was also found.

In the EPIC biomarkers sub-cohort, participants with higher coffee consumption had lower serum alkaline phosphatase, alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase and γ-glutamyltransferase. Additionally, in women C-reactive protein, lipoprotein(a), and glycated hemoglobin levels were improved. This prospective study demonstrated that coffee consumption among subjects in all countries studied was associated with reduced mortality from numerous causes.

Why Does This Matter?

Coffee is not only the number one antioxidant in the U.S. diet, it is actually a health food. It has protective benefits among alcohol users and abusers as it reduces liver-related damage produced by alcohol. As a potent antioxidant, numerous benefits are emerging that is warranting further research. Coffee may still be “the best part of waking up,” and perhaps it’s also the best part of preventative medicine.