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U.K. study suggests drinking coffee may help you live longer

Dr. Shah says black coffee offers more potential health benefits than coffee with dairy and/or sugar.
Dr. Shah says black coffee offers more potential health benefits than coffee with dairy and/or sugar.

The seven-year studyof about 120,000 middle-aged people suggested those who drank coffee with or without sugar over that time had a lower risk of death than non-coffee drinkers. Dr. Ruby Shah, an internist and obesity expert with Texas Health Plano, told KERA’s Sam Baker the results didn’t surprise her.


Did the study findings surprise you?

There is quite a bit of evidence, several studies on coffee, showing it can be part of a healthy lifestyle. But most are observational studies. We don't know if there's something particular in coffee that's causing that. We just know it can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

The pros and cons of coffee when it comes to health benefits

There are several studies showing improvement in Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. We know the obvious benefits of alertness and focus.

But there are also some potential negative effects. It gives some people anxiety. It can give people palpitations.

There has been quite a bit of evidence showing unfiltered coffee can increase your LDL cholesterol. Coffee has some oil and sterile compounds in it. And when you use a paper filter in coffee, it gets rid of those compounds.


Most studies show caffeine, overall, has positive benefits for us.

Yeah, people do get anxiety. Some people do get palpitations. Of course, if you're pregnant, coffee is not something you don't want to have at all. You just want to be able to limit it.

And most studies on coffee also show benefits of coffee at up to about three and a half cups. We don't want to drink more coffee beyond that.

Moderation is the key?

Yeah. It also depends on what you’re putting in your coffee. If you're someone who drinks black coffee, that's great. Lots of potential health benefits. A lot of times people drink coffee when they're fasting because it helps with hunger. But most studies show about two, three-and-a-half, or four cups a day is what you want to set your maximum amount of coffee up to. Beyond that can actually be detrimental to our health.

Just from overconsumption?

Correct. We don't know for sure if it's truly due to just overconsumption because the people who drink coffee in these studies may have other lifestyle factors that contribute.

Perhaps the people who drink eight cups a day sit a lot more at their desks, they're more sedentary. They may have other lifestyle factors that contribute to the negative health benefits of coffee. It's hard to isolate the particular negatives or positives of coffee alone without looking at the other lifestyle factors.

If you don't drink coffee, would it be a good idea to start for any particular reason, or are you better off without it? 

I don't think that there's any reason to start drinking coffee purely for health benefits. Most of the health benefits derived from caffeine are thought to be due to polyphenols, which are antioxidants. The highest concentration of polyphenols is in fruits and vegetables.

Before we try to get the health benefits from something like coffee, you really want to start with upping your fruits and vegetables, not start to drink coffee.

So Is Coffee Bad for You in Any Way?

Drinking coffee may be linked to lower risk of death, even with a little sugar

New study says coffee and tea can keep you awake now and alert in the future

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.