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(Reuters Health) - People who drink the most coffee are less likely to die than those who drink the least or none, according to two new studies that followed nearly three quarters of a million people for about 16 years.
The results don't necessarily mean coffee directly prevents people from dying, but researchers suggest they should at least reassure people who can't get by without their daily cup of joe.
"It’s premature that people start consuming coffee to improve health outcomes," said Alice Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. "However, if they do so, they should probably do it without a lot of concern."
"I think for some people, it’s going to put their minds at ease," said Lichtenstein, who wasn't involved with either of the new studies.
Previous research from the United States and Japan found a reduced risk of death among coffee drinkers, but little was known about whether such a link also existed in Europe, where coffee-drinking habits vary between countries.
People in Denmark drink larger quantities of coffee than Italians who drink smaller and stronger drinks like espresso, for example.
For one of the new studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the authors examined data collected over about 16 years from 521,330 people living in 10 European countries. There were 41,693 deaths over the study period.
Men who reported drinking the most coffee were about 12 percent less likely to die during the follow-up period, compared to men who didn't drink coffee. Similarly, women who drank the most coffee were about 7 percent less likely to die during that time than women who didn't drink any.
Despite the people being so different from country to country, the researchers saw a consistent relationship, said co-lead author Neil Murphy, of the Inter Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France.
They found coffee tied to a reduced risk of death from digestive diseases among both men and women, along with a decreased risk of death from circulatory and cerebrovascular diseases among women. Women with the biggest coffee habit, however, had an increased risk of death from ovarian cancer.
"A lot more research is needed to tease apart what it is in coffee that might be having these effects," Murphy told Reuters Health.
Until more is known, he, too, said the findings at least suggest coffee isn't detrimental to people's health.
A second study also looked at coffee consumption among diverse populations in the U.S.
"Finding in one population doesn’t necessarily apply to others," said V. Wendy Setiawan, of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
For their study, the researchers analyzed data on 185,855 people aged 45 to 75 years who were African American, Native Hawaiian, Japanese American, Latino or white.
Over roughly 16 years of follow up, 58,397 people died.
Compared to people who drank no coffee, those who drank one cup per day were 12 percent less likely to die during follow up. People who drank two or more cups per day were 18 percent less likely to die.
Setiawan also said their study can't say what is behind the link between coffee and lower risk of death.
"Caffeine is the most studied compound, but we see similar patterns among people who drink decaffeinated," she said.
Lichtenstein also said it could be that people who drink coffee aren't drinking other beverages with a lot of calories like apple juice.
"I always felt its one of the few things that I enjoy that doesn’t have calories," she said.
Of course, she said that doesn't apply if people add a lot of cream and sugar.