Massive Study Links Coffee to Lower Death Risk – Is Coffee the Antidote to Sugar Addiction?
While COVID-19 has taken a toll on everyone's health, a blockbuster study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that coffee drinkers enjoyed up to a 30 percent lower risk of dying from all causes, even from cancer and heart disease. So could coffee also help us fight COVID?
"It's huge," says Dr. Christina Wee, a deputy editor of the Annals of Internal Medicine and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. "There are very few things that reduce your mortality by 30 percent."
The monumental study followed 171,616 members of the UK Biobank database over seven years. At the beginning of the study, these patients were free from cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and stroke. However, some 3,177 had died by the completion of the trial, including 1,725 from cancer and 628 from cardiovascular disease.
Incredibly, those who drank unsweetened coffee were among the least likely to die from any cause, but in particular, they seemed protected from cancer and CVD. Moreover, the results were consistent and statistically significant, with both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee benefits. Thus the researchers concluded that "it seems unlikely that caffeine alone can explain all potential health effects of coffee."
Even sugar-sweetened coffee was linked to a similar benefit, although not as robust. For example, with 4 cups per day, unsweetened coffee consumers enjoyed a 34% reduction in death from all causes, while sugar-sweetened coffee drinkers saw a 26% reduction. However, at more than 4.5 cups per day, the benefit for sugared coffee evaporated, while the advantage of unsweetened coffee persisted at 33%.
Even at up to eight cups per day, the unsweetened coffee drinkers enjoyed lower odds of death from cancer and cardiovascular disease.
The devil is always in the details, and this study exposes how dangerous too much sugar is. At greater than 4.5 cups of sugared coffee per day, the cancer death rate, according to Table 2, shows an 87 percent increase. All-cause mortality was similarly increased by 58%.
Coffee by itself proved to reduce death from all causes. However, adding too much sugar to moderate intakes made it unhealthy. In addition, it raised the risk of cancer, almost doubling it – see Table 2 – Associations of Coffee Consumption with All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality.
Another UK Biobank study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology came to similar conclusions regarding coffee's benefit to the heart. The European researchers reviewed 468,629 individuals and followed them for an average of 11 years. Unfortunately, 22.1% of these subjects did not consume coffee regularly and died at consistently higher rates.
This study included detailed MRI imaging of the heart and found that coffee benefits the heart muscle. Magnetic resonance is one of the most accurate and reproducible heart imaging methods available. Coffee drinkers enjoyed increased stroke volumes in both cardiac ventricles.
In essence, the coffee drinkers’ hearts pumped more efficiently. The scientists concluded that coffee had a beneficial effect on cardiac function and remodeling.
Detailed arterial stiffness measurements linked moderate coffee drinking with "significantly decreased ASI - arterial stiffness index." The lower the arterial stiffness in general, the better.
Stiff arteries are associated with heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, and high blood pressure. These are all leading causes of death; cardiovascular diseases account for 32% of all deaths globally.
Another surprising finding from the Europeans was that the prevalence of hypertension - high blood pressure - long thought to be greater in coffee drinkers was not. The researchers wrote,
The prevalence of hypertension was not higher in those drinking greater > 3 cups of coffee per day as compared to zero coffee drinkers in this study.
The scientists compared their results with prior studies that recorded coffee's association with heart health. For example, they mentioned the Spanish data reporting that 1 - 7 cups of caffeinated coffee per week was associated with a lower risk of atrial fibrillation.
Another study concluded that > 5 cups per day increased adiponectin levels and reduced insulin resistance.
Still, another publication noted a reduced prevalence of diabetes mellitus in coffee drinkers. Since insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity are firmly linked, coffee drinking could help impact all these conditions.
As in the Annals of Internal Medicine study, the European team found the coffee benefit in BOTH caffeinated and decaffeinated brews. Caffeine is not the key, but it is likely due to the antioxidant and polyphenolic properties coffee provides that are a derivative of the coffee bean itself.
Polyphenols are among the most potent antioxidants contained in foods. Polyphenols decrease reactive oxygen species and oxidative stress – they reduce the levels of dangerous free radicals. Digested coffee is especially effective and can reduce IL-6, an inflammatory cytokine.
Is too much coffee bad for you?
The study’s co-author, Dr. Steffen Peterson, a professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Queen Mary University of London, says no. After following half a million patients for over a decade and seeing no adverse outcomes or increases in death, the verdict is in.
Our results suggest that regular coffee consumption is safe, as even high daily coffee intake was not associated with adverse CV outcomes and all-cause mortality after a follow-up duration of 10-15 years. Moreover, 0.5 – 3 cups per day were independently associated with a lower risk of all-cause and CV mortality and incident stroke.
Writing as a practicing physician who has suffered from insulin resistance and high blood pressure since age 18, almost 50 years ago, I can confidently say that drinking coffee in middle age turned my health around when all the medications in the world would not. What I experienced first-hand in my health is what these studies reflect - and the interested reader can find my personal story in the book about the health benefits of coffee published a few years ago. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and many are featured in this book.
Coffee, it turns out, is only half of my story.
The other half was breaking my addiction to sugar. As I discuss in my book, sugar is the actual reason most of us Americans are overweight, and it is the reason we are addicted to many foods. Added sugar causes us to crave foods ranging from soft drinks, cereals, cookies, cakes, bread, and most processed goodies.
And it is why many Americans, like me, suffer from Insulin Resistance reflected by a thick waist, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and either diabetes or prediabetes.
Much of this could have been prevented by eliminating high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) from our foods. If the FDA had not been so cozy with the Food Industry, that could have and should have happened. A watchdog group or proper regulatory agency would have protected us from the toxic effects of sugar, and its worst version, HFCS.
Dr. Richard Johnson, a kidney specialist from the University of Colorado at Denver, gave an interview to National Geographic in August of 2013 and explained all of this.
“Why is it that one-third of adults have high blood pressure when in 1900 only 5 percent had high blood pressure? Why did 153 million have diabetes in 1980, and now we’re up to 347 million? Why are more Americans obese? Sugar, we believe, is one of the culprits, if not the major culprit.”
However, that is not the narrative I was taught. Instead, Americans were led to believe fats and cholesterol were the real causes of heart disease, so these were limited in “low fat” foods in which the fat was replaced with HFCS. As a result, obesity, disease, and death rates skyrocketed while also providing drug companies a boon in profits from statins and drugs designed to treat high blood pressure and diabetes. As a result, the Food and Drug Administration became a servant of Big Pharma and Big Foods while my health and many others suffered.
Johnson summed it up best,
“Americans are fat because they eat too much and exercise too little. But they eat too much and exercise too little because they’re addicted to sugar, which makes them fatter but, after the initial sugar rush, also saps their energy, beaching them on the couch. (So) the reason you’re watching TV is not because TV is so good, but because you have no energy to exercise because you’re eating too much sugar.”
There are metabolic reasons for this, including the fact that insulin-resistant muscle does not absorb glucose as efficiently as insulin-sensitive muscle. This lack of energy makes a person tired. This glucose is recycled back to the liver, where it is converted to fat and stored. The pancreas is stimulated to produce higher levels of insulin which perpetuate the cycle. Fatigue, sedentary lifestyle, and sugar addiction lead to insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and premature death from CVD and cancer. How does one break the cycle?
Adding coffee, time restrictive eating, resistive exercise, and whey protein are the four steps I used to successfully break my sugar addiction and restore my health – all no thanks to the FDA and the false narrative about fat being the culprit and not sugar.
So now, with the publication of these landmark studies exposing coffee as healthy, please allow me to share this evidence regarding coffee and sugar.
Coffee, far from being unhealthy, has proven itself through these recent studies to be associated with a longer life and reduced risks of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. It is also associated with lower risks of dementia, parkinsonism, and liver disease. Coffee is linked to lower rates of cirrhosis, hepatitis, and fatty liver. Coffee drinking reduces the deadly inflammation associated with premature aging and disease.
It has helped me remain healthy and disease-free. When researching the book, I found that coffee helped reduce all top ten causes of death in the United States. In addition, it has a beneficial effect on virtually every organ system within the body. And I would wager that sugar does the opposite.
Dr. Sebastiano Cicco, the editor of the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, feels the time has come to recommend coffee to the world as part of a strategy to improve cardiovascular health,
Therefore, light to moderate coffee consumption looks good enough to reduce CV mortality. This result is diet independent and is related to a better heart and vessel phenotype. Thus coffee could be a worldwide novel idea to reduce the cardiovascular burden using lifestyle habits.
In light of the recent increases in cancers and heart disease associated with COVID-19 and associated policies, perhaps everyone should consider Dr. Cicco's preventative medicine advice. And using coffee as a natural method to break one’s addiction to sugar is a powerful tool. So coffee morning, noon, and night might now be just what the doctor ordered.