Coffee could help you live longer – and scientists now know how many cups a day you need

Cup of coffee - F.J. Jimenez/Getty Images Contributor
Cup of coffee - F.J. Jimenez/Getty Images Contributor

Drinking three cups of ground coffee a day, but not instant, reduces a person’s risk of death, according to a new study.

Almost half a million Britons enrolled in the UK Biobank study were divided by their coffee intake: those who drank none, up to three cups, and more than three cups a day.

The benefits were also found for those drinking decaffeinated coffee.

The study revealed that moderate coffee drinkers, up to three cups a day, were 12 per cent less likely to die over the study’s 11-year period.

They were also 17 and 21 per cent less likely to die of heart disease or stroke, respectively, according to the study from the Semmelweis University in Budapest and Queen Mary University of London.

Over the study period, 3.4 per cent of moderate drinkers died, compared to 3.7 per cent of coffee abstainers and four per cent of those drinking higher amounts of caffeine.

Among the coffee drinkers, a fifth preferred decaffeinated, a quarter drank ground beans and more than half opted for instant coffee.

Dr Pal Maurovich-Horvat, the director of the medical imaging centre at the Semmelweis University and one of the study’s co-authors, said: “Using MRI scans we were able to analyse the effect of regular coffee intake on the structure and function of the heart.

“We found that regular light-to-moderate coffee consumption is beneficial for the health of the heart, with the suggestion that it can slow down age-related cardiac changes.”

Love instant coffee? Prepare for a shock...

The discrepancy between the health benefits of ground and instant coffee should be the focus of future research, the scientists said - Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
The discrepancy between the health benefits of ground and instant coffee should be the focus of future research, the scientists said - Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

The health benefits of coffee, however, applied only to ground beans and were not seen amongst instant coffee drinkers.

“While ground coffee was associated with decreased all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, we did not find a statistically significant association between regular instant coffee consumption and health outcomes,” the scientists wrote in their study.

“The difference among the various coffee types may be explained by the differences in their production process, as they contain different chemicals.”

It also found decaffeinated ground coffee has health benefits, as those who “regularly” opted for decaf had a lower risk of death compared to those who did not drink coffee at all.

As a result, the researchers concluded the benefits from coffee are only partly due to caffeine, with antioxidants and other chemicals likely playing a key role.

Dr Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, one of the study’s co-authors from Queen Mary University of London, said: “Most of the participants drank either ground or instant coffee. Ground coffee in moderate amounts was associated with lower mortality risk – but this benefit was not found amongst the regular instant coffee drinkers.

“The reason behind this may relate to the different production process of the ground and instant forms as they contain different additives.”

The discrepancy between the health benefits of ground and instant coffee should be the focus of future research, the scientists said.

Poorer health outcomes

However, while moderate consumption of ground coffee was found to be beneficial, more than three cups a day was linked to poorer health outcomes.

“Analysis showed that light-to-moderate coffee drinking was associated with decreased [risk], while high coffee intake was linked with increased all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, as compared to zero coffee drinkers,” the researchers wrote in the paper, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

The study added to a tranche of papers that have investigated the health impact of coffee, with fierce debate erupting over whether it is good or bad. This paper adds significant weight to the argument that the popular drink is, in fact, beneficial.

Prof Steffen Petersen, an expert in cardiovascular medicine from Queen Mary University, added: “Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages in the world. However, its cardiovascular effects are not well-known, and some previous studies have shown contradictory results.

“As far as we know, this has been the largest study to date which focused on the effect of coffee on cardiovascular health.”