Coffee: To Drink or Not To Drink?

From quaint café’s/patisseries of France, to the post-dinner coffee of the Greeks, and the venti-non-fat, extra foam, 152 degree vanilla latte of the Starbucks generation, coffee is, arguably, the most beloved drink in the universe…So why the negative rep?

As the lifeline of students (including myself!), professionals and just about anyone else, coffee has long faced condemnation as being ‘unhealthy’. This is due to the fact that, fundamentally speaking, caffeine is a stimulant, and well, frankly, that’s just not thought to be a good thing. As a stimulant, it transiently increases your heart rate and blood pressure, along with your alertness(1).

There have also been findings that suggest coffee leads to elevated levels of Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) – the bad cholesterol, and this has led to concerns that coffee may contribute to an elevated risk of heart disease(1).

But wait! Is there a silver lining to my love affair with coffee???

Echoing findings reported in Harvard Women’s Health Watch by Harvard Medical School in 2004, the latest research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, looking at the implications of coffee on health, researchers found that coffee may actually confer several major health benefits, and potentially result in reduced mortality(1).

Results from this research are particularly promising because in this study, researchers excluded a major confounder – smoking. We all know that smoking is an unhealthy habit, and given that past trends have demonstrated a significant association between coffee drinking and smoking – a lot of smokers drink coffee or vice versa – accounting for smoking as a confounder, researcher were able to evaluate data with respect to the true effects of coffee itself on health.

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The study uncovered surprising “inverse correlations” between major health risks and mortality with respect to coffee consumption – meaning that coffee drinkers may have a lower risk of death than non-coffee drinkers:

“After adjustment for tobacco-smoking status and other potential confounders, there was a significant inverse association between coffee consumption and mortality”       – Freedman, et al. 2012

Results showed up to a 10% reduction in mortality for men who drank 6 or more cups of coffee per day, and up to a 15% reduction in mortality for females who drank 6 or more cups per day.

Rather than coffee consumption being tied to an increased risk of developing many forms of chronic disease, the opposite was found – with the exception of cancer:

“Inverse associations were observed for deaths due to heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes, and infections, but not for deaths due to cancer”(2).

Although these findings show tremendous promise, additional research is needed to decipher more clearly the exact type of relationship, causative/associative, that exists between coffee consumption and reduced mortality and reduced health risks – and to dispel years of flack(1).

In addition, we should remember that for those of us who experience insomnia and/or anxiety, coffee may not be the best beverage of choice for us as coffee can often aggravate these conditions. If this is the case for you, other options such as green tea, black tea or decaffeinated herbal teas are better options. For myself in particular, in times of high-stress, I find consuming coffee can create un-due anxiety and disrupt my sleep patterns. So while the benefits may be there, it is important to evaluate and consider how your individual body responds to coffee – and caffeine in general – before upping your intake!


  1. Freedman, N., Park, Y., Abnet, C., Hollenbeck, A., Sinha, R. 2012. Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. The New England Journal of Medicine. 366:1891-1904.
  2. Fox, S. 2012. Can Coffee Intake Lower Mortality Risk? CME. Medscape.
  3. Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School. 2004. Coffee Health Risks: For the moderate drinker, coffee is safe says Harvard Women’s Health Watch. Harvard Women’s Health Watch.
  4. Schor, J. 2012. Can Coffee help You Live Longer? Wellness Times


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