As one of the world's most popular beverages, it is clear that us humans do love a good cup of coffee. And a new study drawing on data from over half a million Europeans suggests that this penchant for a little pick-me-up could have a range of health benefits, by revealing an association between higher coffee consumption and a reduced risk of death from all causes.

The research was carried out by scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Imperial College London, who analyzed cancer and nutrition data from more than 500,000 Europeans over the age of 35. These subjects hailed from 10 different European countries, each with their distinctive styles of coffee consumption, such as the espresso sippers of Italy and the cappuccino-lovers of the UK.

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This in itself revealed a few interesting insights. The people of Denmark, it was found, boast the highest level of coffee consumption by volume, at 900 mL (30 oz) per person per day, while the Italians consumed the least at around 92 mL (3.04 oz). The more coffee people drank, the more likely they were to be smokers, drinkers, meat-eaters, younger and not huge fans of fruit and vegetables.

Following up with the same participants 16 years later, the study found that 42,000 deaths had occurred from causes including cancer, circulatory diseases, heart failure and stroke. Adjusting for factors such as diet and smoking, the team says that subjects in the highest quartile of coffee consumption had significantly lower mortality rates than those that didn't drink coffee.

"We found that higher coffee consumption was associated with a lower risk of death from any cause, and specifically for circulatory diseases, and digestive diseases," said lead author Dr. Marc Gunter of the IARC. "Importantly, these results were similar across all of the 10 European countries, with variable coffee drinking habits and customs. Our study also offers important insights into the possible mechanisms for the beneficial health effects of coffee."

Among these insights was evidence that coffee drinkers may have healthier livers and better glucose control, something the researchers uncovered by analyzing metabolic biomarkers in a subset of 14,000 people. While coffee is know to contain compounds that interact with the body such as caffeine, diterpenes and antioxidants, the researchers say further research is needed pin down which ones in particular offer these apparent health benefits, along with how much would actually be a healthy amount to consume.

"Due to the limitations of observational research, we are not at the stage of recommending people to drink more or less coffee," says Gunter. "That said, our results suggest that moderate coffee drinking – up to around three cups per day – is not detrimental to your health, and that incorporating coffee into your diet could have health benefits."

The research was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Source: Imperial College London