ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Coffee may be more than just a daily pick-me-up. A new study published today in JAMA Internal Medicine adds to the evidence that coffee drinkers tend to live a little longer. And it doesn't seem to matter if you drink regular or decaf. NPR's Allison Aubrey tells us more.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: It wasn't too long ago that coffee was considered a vice. Christopher Gardner directs nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. He says the bad rap goes back to a time when people who drank coffee were also very likely to smoke. So when early studies showed coffee was associated with health risks, researchers were thrown off until they separated the two habits.
CHRISTOPHER GARDNER: The smoking was the cause of the association. And ever since they disentangled smoking, coffee wasn't just null. It was beneficial, which was kind of funny because it flipped it on its head.
AUBREY: In recent years, the evidence has been piling up. Lots of research now suggests that there are health benefits to a daily coffee habit. The latest comes from a study of a half million people who were in their late 30s through their early 70s. Researchers tracked their coffee consumption and their health over a 10-year period. Erikka Loftfield of the National Cancer Institute is a study author.
ERIKKA LOFTFIELD: We found that people who drank two to three cups per day had about a 12 percent lower risk of death compared to non-coffee drinkers.
AUBREY: And drinking more than three cups was tied to an even slightly lower risk of death during the 10-year study. This was true of all coffee drinkers, even those who were determined to be slow metabolizers of caffeine. These are people who tend to be more sensitive to caffeine. And it held up among people who drank decaffeinated too.
LOFTFIELD: And this may suggest that it's non-caffeine components in coffee...
AUBREY: ...That could be driving a benefit. Now, this study does not prove that coffee extends life. So researchers want to better understand why they keep seeing this association. Stanford's Christopher Gardner says coffee beans are loaded with interesting compounds.
GARDNER: Coffee, with its thousand chemicals, includes a number of polyphenol-like, antioxidant-rich compounds.
AUBREY: Some of coffee's bioactive compounds have anti-inflammatory properties too. But Gardner says figuring out how they work together to produce a benefit is complicated. So he's got another theory about what may help explain coffee's ties to longevity - coffee can bring people joy.
GARDNER: Think about when you're drinking coffee. Aren't you stopping and relaxing for a little bit, for the most part?
AUBREY: He says he can't imagine life without it.
GARDNER: Oh, I have three to five cups a day. I just love holding that hot beverage in my hand. It's a morning ritual. (Laughter) And I'd love to encourage people to stop and take a moment.
AUBREY: Gardner says he does have one suggestion for new coffee drinkers - learn to love it without all the frills, things like...
GARDNER: Whipped cream, sugar, chocolate sprinkles and caramel.
AUBREY: He says you don't need all that sugar. The earliest studies of coffee drinkers reflect a time when many people drank it black. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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