Should people who abstain from drinking coffee start in order to gain the health benefits outlined in the study?
We probably can’t recommend that yet, but what’s interesting is that the study found that even the people who drank decaf showed a benefit. So, it’s apparently not just the caffeine. There are other compounds in coffee, such as antioxidants and other compounds, that may make insulin function better, that are contributing to the mortality benefit and diabetes prevention effect of coffee.
Who should stay away from drinking coffee?
People who may be very sensitive to the stimulant effects of caffeine such as people with hearth arrhythmias, severe anxiety, or insomnia may want to stick with decaffeinated coffee. There are potential harms of coffee too, such as dehydration, acid reflux, and gastrointestinal symptoms, as well as headaches in certain people. Drinking large amounts of coffee, then stopping, can lead to withdrawal symptoms as well.
Could people reap the same benefits if they drank other caffeinated beverages, like tea?
What we can say is that if this mortality benefit was due to caffeine, then tea drinkers should reap that benefit, too. Being that the decaf group also saw positive results, it appears that there are other substances in coffee that are likely contributing to that benefit. If that’s not present in the tea, then we wouldn’t see the same benefit.
What about caffeine in soda?
Although there is caffeine in soda, I do not recommend consuming it because of the sugar and extra calories, and in high quantities it can add acid to the blood and cause bone loss. There are data that suggest both soda and diet soda may contribute to obesity and diabetes, which are both diseases associated with an increase in mortality.
Should people be skeptical about these new findings?
I think we have to take these results with a grain of salt in the sense that it is a prospective study. People were choosing to participate and filling out a questionnaire, which is very different from a randomized trial, where people don’t know what they’re getting and you can measure things differently. What a study like this tells us is that we should look closer at the substances in coffee, other than caffeine, and start studying them individually in a randomized trial.
Dr. Rekha B. Kumar is an attending endocrinologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. She specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of various endocrinology disorders, including obesity/weight management and thyroid disorders. She is also the medical director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine.