Every coffee lover knows that the brown stuff is literally the elixir of life. But while we credit a caffeine hit for helping us get through the day, there’s some other more surprising benefits to our daily cups of the brown stuff, including making us stronger in old age.
In fact, new research has found that at least one cup of coffee or tea per day has been associated with a reduced likelihood of physical frailty in late life.
Caffeine is the key component, and researchers found that those who drank four cups of coffee per day were stronger, followed by people who consumed black or green tea.
To find these results, a team from the National University of Singapore looked at 12,000 participants aged 45 to 74 with a follow-up period of 20 years.
"Our studies show that consumption of these caffeinated drinks at midlife may be associated with a reduced likelihood of physical frailty in late life," study author Professor Koh Woon Puay said.
It comes after separate research revealed drinking two cups of coffee a day, even decaf, is linked to a longer life and reduced risk of heart disease.
Whether ground, instant or decaffeinated, those who drink two or three cups a day could have a longer lifespan and lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who don’t drink any.
Researchers at the European Society of Cardiology studied half a million people over 12.5 years and concluded that it should be part of a healthy lifestyle.
The health benefits of coffee
While coffee doesn't claim to be a magical cure-all, research has shown there are certain health and wellbeing benefits that can be gleaned from a steaming cup of Joe.
1. It could help you live longer
A 2017 study found that drinking three cups of coffee a day could add years to our lives.
After adjusting for lifestyle factors, such as smoking and diet, the scientists found that those who drank the most coffee had a lower risk of death in comparison to those who spent their lives coffee-free.
And further research found that people who drink two to three cups per day have a 12% lower risk of early death than people who don't drink coffee at all.
2. It could protect against certain cancers
The study, presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow, found that a diet full of phenolic acids provides a protective effect on the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer.
Phenolic acids are found in coffee, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Coffee may also protect the liver from cancer, with one research paper finding that people who drink more coffee are less likely to develop hepatocellular cancer (HCC), the most common form of primary liver cancer.
People who drank two cups a day had a 35% reduced risk, but for those who drank five cups, the risk was halved.
Lead author Dr Oliver Kennedy, of the University of Southampton, said: "Coffee is widely believed to possess a range of health benefits, and these latest findings suggest it could have a significant effect on liver cancer risk.
"We’re not suggesting that everyone should start drinking five cups of coffee a day though. There needs to be more investigation into the potential harms of high coffee-caffeine intake, and there is evidence it should be avoided in certain groups such as pregnant women."
3. It could protect your brain
Chugging back coffee could help keep your brain healthy according to research which found coffee could help to halt brain degeneration over time.
As a result, the hot (or cold) drink could help prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
A Chinese research team found that drinking small amounts of coffee — one to two cups per day — was associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline. However, drinking more than that did not decrease risk at all.
A separate 2018 study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience found a similar association between coffee consumption and a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
4. It may protect your liver
Recent research found that people who drink coffee daily have a lower risk of developing and dying from liver disease.
The study analysed data from more than 495,000 people in the UK over a median of 10 years. They tracked which people developed chronic liver disease and related liver conditions.
Compared to non-coffee drinkers, people who drink coffee had a 21% reduced risk of chronic liver disease and a 20% reduced risk of chronic or fatty liver disease. They were also much less likely to die from chronic liver disease if they did contract it.
Dr JW Langer, expert at the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC), explains that the correlation might be down to the presence of polyphenols – a type of micronutrient – in coffee.
"Polyphenols exhibit anti-inflammatory effects and counteract long-standing harmful inflammation," he says. "Indeed, the association with a reduced risk of liver disease and type 2 diabetes have suggested that an anti-inflammatory effect may be important in these conditions."
5. It could help to reduce blood pressure
Consuming up to four cups of coffee on a daily basis could help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, one study found.
Scientists discovered both "an association between coffee consumption and a decreased risk of type two diabetes" and that "long-term coffee consumption is associated with a decreased risk of hypertension".
This is because a “moderate consumption” of the popular hot drink was positively associated with lowered metabolic syndrome risk – reducing an individual’s risk by an average of by 26%.
Metabolic syndrome is an umbrella term for a number of conditions that often occur together and increase the risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease. This includes obesity, high blood pressure, high blood triglycerides, low levels of HDL cholesterol and insulin resistance.
Watch: 5 tips for keeping your caffeine consumption in check
6. It could aid weight loss
In what could be the best potential benefit, recent research suggested our favourite caffeinated drink might be the key to aiding weight loss.
Researchers, University of Nottingham, found coffee might help the body to burn calories.
It does this through stimulating certain fat cells – known as brown adipose tissue – into releasing their energy.
The study used thermal imaging to monitor participants’ brown fat reserves, with results revealing that drinking coffee had a positive effect on the cells’ ability to generate heat, burning energy in the process.
A separate study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, saw researchers adding caffeine into exercisers' routine before they worked out. Those in the caffeine group rated their workouts as easier and more enjoyable than those who did not. Additionally, the caffeinated group ate, on average, 72 fewer calories that same day.
7. It could give you a happiness hit
Previous research found that women who drink two or more cups of coffee a day are less likely to get depressed.
The study of over 50,000 women found that the more caffeinated coffee women drank, the lower their risk of developing depression.
However, before you stick the kettle on, it's worth noting that the research did have several limitations and should not be taken as conclusive evidence that coffee can prevent depression.
It is possible the results are a case of ‘reverse causation’ and that the women who were depressed avoided drinking coffee. Other factors such as family history or other circumstances may also have influenced the risk of depression.
8. How to make the most of coffee's benefits
While there are plenty of perceived benefits of coffee, experts are also keen to stress it isn't a a magic bullet and should be enjoyed in moderation.
According to the European Food Safety Authority’s review of caffeine safety a safe coffee intake can be defined as three to five cups per day.
Dr Langer also recommends cutting down on added sugars in your coffees and only using skimmed milk, if any at all, due to the calorie intake, which could inhibit any perceived plus points.
It is also important to keep in mind the limitations of some of the research into coffee's potential health benefits.
"Like most other nutritional studies, the coffee studies are so called observational, meaning that a large group of people are followed for several years," Dr Langer explains.
"Implied in the observational study design of the research, the data cannot fully exclude that other lifestyle factors beside drinking coffee may contribute to the observed health benefits.
"Perhaps a healthier diet or a more consistent exercise routine play a role. Conclusions from these studies can never be definitive."
That being said many experts, including Dr Langer, remain convinced that from a scientific viewpoint low to moderate coffee intake is associated with a reduced risk for and sometimes lower mortality of a large number of health conditions.
"In my opinion as a physician, an important and reassuring finding from the studies [about the health benefits of coffee] is that a regular moderate intake of coffee does not seem to be harmful for most people," Dr Langer explains.
"You can enjoy coffee as part of a healthy diet without concern."
So go forth and enjoy another frothy Frappuccino folks.
Coffee: Read more
Protein coffee is TikTok’s newest food trend - but what are the benefits? (Yahoo Life UK, 3-min read)
Coffee can naturally boost fitness by increasing your daily step count, finds study (Yahoo Life UK, 2-min read)
This TikTok ice cube hack is a total iced-coffee game-changer (Yahoo Life UK, 2-min read)