Drinking four cups of coffee a day significantly cuts the chance of an early death, research suggests. A study of 20,000 people found heavy consumption cut the risk of dying young by up to two thirds.
The Spanish researchers, who tracked people aged 25 to 60 for a decade, believe the antioxidant plant compounds in coffee benefit the heart and ward off cancer.
Because the participants were relatively young, with an average age of 37 at the start of the study, the average chance of dying during the ten years they were studied was very low – 1.7 per cent.
But the researchers found the risk of death fell even further among those who drank the most coffee.
Every extra two cups were associated with a 22 per cent relative drop in mortality – rising to 30 per cent among over-45s. And those drinking four cups had a 64 per cent relative drop in death risk, compared with those who never or rarely consumed coffee, meaning they had an absolute death risk of well under 1 per cent.
Study leader Dr Adela Navarro, a cardiologist at Navarra Hospital in Pamplona, said: ‘I would advise drinking plenty of coffee, it could be good for your heart.’
Presenting her results at the European Society of Cardiology conference in Barcelona, she said cancer was the biggest cause of death seen in her study, followed by heart disease.
‘These were young healthy people, but the results were consistent with other studies,’ she said. ‘I think it’s the polyphenols (in coffee), they have an anti-inflammatory effect.’ The study was merely statistical – so could not prove that coffee was the cause of the improved mortality – but it echoes findings from previous research.
Just last month a study of 520,000 people led by Imperial College London found coffee improves liver function, reduces inflammation and boosts the immune system.
Coffee contains a number of compounds which interact with the body, including caffeine, diterpenes and antioxidants, and scientists believe some of these have a protective impact.
Some studies have found similar benefits among those drinking decaffeinated versions, leading scientists to conclude that the antioxidant plant compounds in coffee may provide the most benefit.
Dr Navarro added: ‘Our findings suggest that drinking four cups of coffee each day can be part of a healthy diet in healthy people. We didn’t find a cut-off, an upper limit, but we didn’t have many very heavy coffee drinkers – there weren’t many having more than eight a day.’
But experts warn people not to drink too much coffee.
The European Food Safety Agency advises that people drink no more than 0.4g of caffeine a day – the equivalent of five espressos or four cups of instant coffee.
Professor Metin Avkiran, of the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘The best way to minimise your risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death is to concentrate on an overall healthy lifestyle – eat a balanced diet, stay active and don’t smoke – rather than lining up the lattes.’