Drinking coffee is probably good for you but there are exceptions

Coffee is “more likely to benefit health than harm”, a new review has found.

People appear to reduce their risk of a range of health problems when they drink three to four cups a day, experts found.

They concluded that drinking coffee seems safe “within usual patterns of consumption”, except in pregnancy and among women who are at risk of a fracture.

Experts from the University of Southampton and the University of Edinburgh conducted an “umbrella review”, bringing together evidence from more than 200 studies which examined the effects of coffee consumption on health.

They found that drinking three or four cups a day compared with drinking none has been linked to a lower likelihood of developing or dying from cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks and stroke.

Meanwhile high consumption levels compared with low consumption levels appeared to confer benefits of an 18% lower risk of incident cancer.

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Drinking coffee has also been linked to a lower risk of specific cancers including prostate cancer, endometrial cancer, skin cancer and liver cancer, and neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Consumption also had “beneficial associations” with other conditions including diabetes, gallstones, gout and some liver conditions.

The authors found that harmful associations linked to the caffeinated drink were “largely nullified” when other factors were taken into account such as smoking.

But the health benefits are not seen in pregnant women, where high levels of coffee consumption are linked to lower birth rates, preterm birth and pregnancy loss.

Women at risk of fractures should also steer clear, the paper suggests.

Health benefits of coffee do not extend to pregnant women (Katie Collins/PA)

The authors wrote: “Coffee consumption seems generally safe within usual levels of intake, with summary estimates indicating largest risk reduction for various health outcomes at three to four cups a day, and more likely to benefit health than harm.”

But they called for more research to determine whether the links observed in the paper are “causal”.

In a linked editorial, Professor Eliseo Guallar from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland, US, wrote that “coffee is safe, but hold the cake”.

He added: “Does coffee prevent chronic disease and reduce mortality? We simply do not know.

“Should doctors recommend drinking coffee to prevent disease? Should people start drinking coffee for health reasons? The answer to both questions is ‘no’.

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“The evidence is so robust and consistent across studies and health outcomes, however, that we can be reassured that drinking coffee is generally safe, although some caveats apply.”

Tom Sanders, emeritus professor of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, said: “While the conclusion is reassuring to coffee consumers, there are some limitations.

“Coffee is known to cause headaches in some people and it also increases the urge to go to the toilet – some people chose not to drink coffee for these reasons. Patients with abnormal heart rhythms are often advised to drink decaffeinated coffee. Caffeine also acutely increases blood pressure, albeit transiently.

“Consequently, there is likely to be a bias towards better health in those who chose to drink coffee compared to those that avoid it, who may do so because they have health problems – this is a limitation of the studies this review looked at as these factors weren’t always taken into account.”

The study is published in the British Medical Journal.


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