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SYFY WIRE Medicine

Drinking sweetened coffee not only boosts your energy, but your life

One more cup can't hurt.

By Cassidy Ward
Coffee sprouting

The 1995 live-action adaptation of Casper introduced not only a tragic backstory, explaining how the titular friendly ghost died, but also provided a potential mechanism through which he might be resurrected. According to the film’s plot, after Casper died, his father built a machine called the Lazarus, capable of restoring his dead son to life. All you need is a bottle of liquid life to make the whole thing work.

People often say, partially in jest, that coffee is life. Now, we know that might quite literally be true. A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that drinking coffee has a statistically significant impact on rates of mortality. It won’t grant a ghost their corporeal form, but it can prevent you from becoming a ghost in the first place, at least for a little while.

Researchers from Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China gathered data from more than 170,000 study participants in the United Kingdom, with an average age of 55. Importantly, none of the study participants had any baseline incidents of cardiovascular disease or cancer when the study began. Participants were observed between 2009 and 2018, with an average follow-up time of seven years, looking at their rate of mortality alongside individual coffee consumption. Of course, because locking the participants in a lab for seven years would be unethical — no matter how much free coffee you gave them — coffee consumption was self-reported.

Over the course of the study 1725 cancer deaths were reported alongside an additional 628 deaths from cardiovascular disease within the study group. When those deaths were bumped up against the coffee drinking habits of the participants, some interesting correlations emerged.

Researchers found that those participants who drank any amount of unsweetened coffee were between 16% and 21% less likely to die than people who did not consume any coffee. Based on a fairly substantial sample size, the findings show that drinking even the occasional cup of joe reduced your odds of death by up to one-fifth. Coffee consumption in this group ranged from less than a cup per day to greater than four. In every case, they had lower mortality than non-coffee drinkers, when adjusting for other lifestyle and hazard factors.

This is where the study results get a little counterintuitive. The common wisdom is that unsweetened drinks are healthier than sweetened drinks. Thus, the correlation with black coffee and mortality should be strongest. Yet, the study found that those who drank between 1.5 and 3.5 cups of coffee, sweetened with sugar, were between 29% and 31% less likely to die over the study period. We have to imagine the half cups found at both ends of this range were a result of folks forgetting about their coffee and letting it grow cold. It happens.

While sweetened coffee had a stronger impact on reducing mortality than unsweetened coffee, study participants reported adding only about a teaspoon of sugar per cup, on average. The jury is still out on mocha frappes with 11 pumps of syrup and whipped cream.

If you wake up in the morning feeling a little dead, don’t hesitate to brew a fresh pot and enjoy your brew. The data shows it will breathe life not just into your morning, but also into you.