When you drink coffee, you may be drinking to your health. There have been many studies on the health benefits of coffee, and new research from Harvard’s School of Public Health reveals that coffee may support physical and mental wellbeing even more than we previously knew. The longitudinal study-- which began in 1976 and looked at lifestyle and health data from over 200,000 participants—found that drinking a moderate amount of coffee on a regular basis reduces the risk of death from several major categories of diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases, heart disease, and diabetes.
The results of this study should come as good news to the estimated 83% of American adults who drink coffee, especially the 54% who drink coffee on a daily basis. Those who enjoy the beverage have 3.1 cups of coffee per day on average, falling in the range of what the Harvard study considers a ‘moderate’ amount.
For the purposes of the study, a ‘moderate’ amount of coffee is defined as three to five cups a day, either caffeinated or decaffeinated. However, Dr. Frank Hu, one of the lead researchers behind the study, told Business Insider that not everyone responds to coffee the same way, and people should base their coffee intake on their own health and lifestyle habits, rather than trying to hit a goal number of cups per day.
Why Is Coffee So Beneficial?
There isn’t just one key ingredient in coffee that leads to its health benefits; in fact, Hu says that coffee contains hundreds or possibly thousands of bioactive compounds, and that it is likely a combination of compounds that give coffee its many health benefits.
It’s difficult to isolate the effects of individual chemicals and compounds in coffee, but one thing we do know is that coffee is rich in antioxidants: in fact, it’s the top source of antioxidants in the American diet. Antioxidants combat free radicals, molecules which can cause cell damage when produced in excess. By fighting free radicals, antioxidants may help reduce the risk of developing certain diseases.
While we know that coffee contains antioxidants, more research is needed to better understand the complex ways in which the beverage affects our health. The correlation between coffee and reduced disease risk isn’t entirely clear, as people who regularly drink coffee may have other lifestyle habits that weren’t reported in the Harvard study. The study also didn’t take into account whether participants drank their coffee black or with cream and sugar—or if they regularly purchased sugary Starbucks-style drinks.
For now, the takeaway seems to be that if drinking coffee is something you enjoy, it’s safe to keep it up. For most people, the potential health benefits far outweigh any minor adverse effects.