Michael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

Coffee, Sugar, and Mortality

Does adding a little sugar destroy coffee’s mortality benefit?

DOES DRINKING A FEW CUPS OF COFFEE DAILY — even with sugar — lower our chances of early mortality? What about the use of artificial sweeteners?

Historical studies examining coffee’s impact on health have found that coffee consumption is linked to a lower risk of early death. However, the studies did not distinguish between coffee consumed with sugar (or artificial sweeteners) or unsweetened coffee.

Now we have some answers, courtesy of researchers from Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China. The scientists used data from the United Kingdom Biobank study health behavior survey to analyze the associations between the consumption of sugar-containing, artificially sweetened, and unsweetened coffee on mortality.

“I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”
― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Coffee, sugar, and mortality

Researchers analyzed 171,000 subjects in the United Kingdom, with none of these participants having known cancer or heart disease. During seven years of follow-up, the participants answered health (including dietary) behavior questions.

Here are the study results:

Subjects who drank any amount of unsweetened coffee were up to one-fifth (16 to 21 percent) less likely to die during the follow-up period than those who did not consume coffee. Those who consumed 1.5 to 3.5 daily cups of coffee sweetened with sugar were nearly one-third less likely to die than non-drinkers.

The study authors observed that adults drinking sugar-sweetened coffee added an average of only about one teaspoon of sugar per cup of coffee. The results appeared inconclusive for participants who used artificial sweeteners in their coffee.

My take — Coffee, sugar, and mortality

You probably already know what I am about to tell you: Take any observational, non-randomized clinical trial with some skepticism. Perhaps more affluent folks (who have longer longevity) tend to consume more coffee at Seattle-based Starbucks.

In addition, the subjects self-reported data on coffee consumption (and some in the non-coffee group consumed tea). Still, as an occasional espresso consumer, the results are okay with me.

The results are consistent with prior studies of coffee intake but add information on sweeteners added to coffee. If you prefer unsweetened coffee (I am working my way there), moderate consumption of 2.5 to 3.5 cups daily appeared to be associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease compared to no coffee intake.

The benefits of sweetened coffee appeared attenuated when adjusted for possible confounding factors.

I hope you have a joy-filled day. And if you prefer tea, here’s a piece I recently wrote on my preferred beverage:

Step Aside, Coffee — The Health Benefits of Tea

WHILE TEA APPEARS TO HAVE HEALTH BENEFITS, most research investigations have been done in regions where green tea is…

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Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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