Study: Heavy coffee drinking in people under 55 linked to early death
August 15th, 2013
08:00 PM ET

Study: Heavy coffee drinking in people under 55 linked to early death

When you make coffee with breakfast, or grab a to-go cup at a cafe before work, or raid your office's break room for a cup in the afternoon, you're probably not thinking about how scientists are studying it.

So we'll just tell you: Many studies have looked at the health effects of coffee, even though measuring the potential harms and benefits is not as easy as chugging a shot of espresso. Since a whole range of lifestyle and genetic factors influence a person's physical well-being, it's hard to know exactly if, or how, or to what extent, coffee would be good or bad for anyone's longterm health.

The latest study [PDF], published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found an association between drinking more than 28 cups of coffee a week and an increased risk of death from all causes, in people 55 years old and younger. One cup of coffee is 8 ounces.

That doesn't prove that coffee causes death. It also seems to contradict a study in the New England Journal of Medicine last year, which found that people who drink two or more cups of coffee a day have a reduced risk of dying from particular diseases than those who consume little or no coffee.

And a May 2011 study found that men who drink six or more cups a day had a decreased risk of fatal prostate cancer.

How are we supposed to decide how much coffee to drink, when the information about its health effects is more confusing than a cafe menu written in a foreign language?

Experts say that the optimal dose of coffee varies widely, depending on the person. Different people have different tolerances for coffee.

But in general, the authors of this new study emphasized a message of moderation.

The new study 

Researchers followed more than 40,000 people ages 20-87 for about 16 years.

They observed risks for heavy coffee drinkers in both men and women under 55 who drank more than four cups of coffee a day on average. In men who fit this description, the risk of death was 56% higher compared to non-coffee drinkers. In women, the risk was even greater - it doubled, compared to non-coffee drinkers.

The same association was not observed in individuals 55 and older, or in people who drank coffee in moderation.

"It appears that low doses of coffee are safe," said Carl J. Lavie, study co-author from the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans. "We did not see anything bad happening up to about 28 cups per week."

He added, "no increase in cardiovascular mortality at any dose in men or women at any age" was seen.


But wait! Although study authors found a connection between heavy coffee consumption and death, they did not prove that frequent java indulgence causes death. There may be other underlying factors that explain this association.

"What if people are super hyper, driven, stressed out, drinking 10 cups of coffee a day?" Lavie said. "And it's not the coffee that's killing them, it's the fact that they're stressed out that's killing them."

Lavie still suggests that heavy coffee drinkers scale back on their consumption, however.

"I think that if I find that having four or more cups of coffee per day looks like it's associated with higher mortality, even though I don't know that it's for sure due to the coffee, to me that's enough reason to me to try and keep my coffee to below four a day."

The authors did not separate decaf coffee from regular, but "most people report they drink regular," added Dr. Xuemei Sui, study co-author from the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina.

They also did not explore what people were adding to their coffees, so they didn't separate out whether the addition of sweeteners or milk had any effect on death risk.

But what about coffee benefits

There is, on the other hand, evidence from studies on type II diabetes suggesting that coffee can be good.

According to a 2009 meta-analysis, the risk of type II diabetes goes down with each cup of coffee consumed daily. Additionally, a 2007 meta-analysis found a correlation between increased coffee consumption and lower risk of liver cancer.

Such research is still not persuasive enough to tell anyone who doesn't already drink coffee to start.

How much coffee do you drink? 

"A 20 ounce cup, we would count that as two and a half cups," Lavie added.

For perspective, here are some measurements of that cup o' Joe you like to enjoy:

A short Starbucks coffee is 8 ounces. A tall is 12 ounces. A grande is 16 ounces, or two cups of coffee. Make it a venti and you've consumed 20 ounces.

Meanwhile, at Dunkin' Donuts, a small cup of coffee is 10 ounces. A medium contains 14. Order a large and you'll get ounces 20 ounces and XL, 24 ounces, or three cups of coffee.

Experts told CNN in 2012 that they would not make a public health recommendation concerning coffee because there just isn't enough solid evidence to do so.

"If you consume coffee, enjoy it," Dr. Donald Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic said. "But I wouldn't necessarily recommend taking it up if you don't like it."

A lot of people already consider it a regular part of their lives. For nearly two-thirds of Americans, the daily coffee routine is just habit.

Get out of bed. Make coffee. Start your work day.

Have more coffee. Repeat.  Hope it won't kill you.

soundoff (126 Responses)
  1. jdoe

    Another study woefully inadequate "study" on coffee that makes a claim but doesn't explain anything, and is essentially meaningless. People who drink tons of coffee likely do so because they need to stay awake. They likely lack sleep, and that, not coffee, is the major factor for mortality. Needing coffee to stay up also means that's they're not as truly alert as a normal person, and are more likely to make mistakes, such as when driving.

    August 17, 2013 at 23:17 | Report abuse | Reply
    • darth cheney

      Do not criticize the study if you're basing the criticism of CNN's synopsis of it. Go back and read the entire article, particularly the research methodology, before criticizing.

      August 18, 2013 at 16:28 | Report abuse |
    • dan

      I'd say that this is less about a poor study than a poorly reported story....a lot more attention grabbing and more likely to get clicks than if the headline actually described the study adequately.

      August 18, 2013 at 18:47 | Report abuse |
    • The Truth

      For most regular heavy coffee drinkers its not about lack of sleep it's that they are additcted to coffee. Their bodies are so used to injesting so much coffee they don't feel right without it. Soda can have a simular effect. I have a friend who would get headaches if he did not drink soda on a regular basis. Most of this spawned for the coffee shop craze in the 90s were the cool thing was to drink coffee all day out of huge mugs. Older generations drank coffee in the typical 4 to 6 oz cups and sipped it. Even though they would have several cups a day it was nothing compared to people today chugging several travel mug size cups of 24 oz or higher.

      The point to all of this is moderation. A cup or two a day is no problem (that's 8 oz cups people). Going about your day navigating from coffee shop to coffee shop is a problem. When it comes to these studies and discussions, the word duh has to be used for anyone not comprehending chugging tons of anything is bad for you.

      August 19, 2013 at 09:57 | Report abuse |
    • dr mingo

      It's all junk science. A great article (humorous too) that discusses this is by Grimes and Schulz. Ob/Gyn Vol 120 No 4 Oct 2012 pp 920-7. Read it. Coffee science is junk. There is no more low hanging fruit like cigarettes and smoking.

      August 19, 2013 at 14:24 | Report abuse |
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      September 15, 2013 at 12:47 | Report abuse |
  2. Actual Reads

    This article is typical of the shoddy reporting done today. If you actually read the study (link to the pdf is in the article) the people that drank more coffee also had a large tendency to be more inactive and especially a higher percentage ofsmokers. Plus it was from all sources of death, not just medical issues. The article states it contradicted other studies, but those studies were inherently different. I wish reporters would spend some time interpretting what they are reporting on instead of just jumping to conclusions,.

    August 17, 2013 at 23:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • R

      You might want to re-read the article. The article states "seems to contradict." Take this in context; do not jump to conclusions. The article clearly implies that the study found an association; not a causal link. See, for instance, the Lavie quotes under the caveats section. It's actually refreshing to see a news article where the reporter(s) seems to understand that correlation is not causation.

      August 18, 2013 at 00:22 | Report abuse |
    • yolo

      also, people that are addicted to caffeine, that is they drink like 10 cups a day, they have addictive personalities. They are much more likely to be addicted to alcohol also, and certain unhealthy foods. They are more likely to binge on junk food often.

      January 15, 2014 at 18:08 | Report abuse |
  3. Henry

    Let me sum it up this way that drinking coffee could be good or bad. and apply the same logic beyond coffee, that eating could be good and bad, sleeping could be good and bad, running could be good and bad... the world is full of contradictions isn't it? Fear not, common sense will save you from insanity.

    August 18, 2013 at 00:04 | Report abuse | Reply






    HOW TO FASTES GROW, IDEA!!!!!!!!!!!.












    August 18, 2013 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JohnK

      Think you may have had too many cups of coffee, dude!

      August 18, 2013 at 23:05 | Report abuse |
    • runner305

      You have a severe mental problem, which is probably not linked to coffee consumption.

      January 16, 2014 at 05:47 | Report abuse |


    August 18, 2013 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Dr. Grey

    My parents have been drinking coffee since they were young. They are now 75 and 78 years old. They don't have any form of dementia. Everyone in our village is a coffee grower and coffee drinker. Everyone lives long. This observation alone contradicts this study. To the authors, your study is biased and cannot be duplicated in our community. What a waste of resources and talent.

    August 18, 2013 at 10:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • darth cheney

      No, your experience does not contradict the study in any way, shape, or form. You're talking about a community and we don't know how other local factors might affect longevity.

      August 18, 2013 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
  7. chrystine

    Well I Never would think that coffee could kill you!

    August 18, 2013 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Tony Anonyma

    Another elitist mental leap in illogic from Mayo where bogus correlation trumps good old fashion scientific cause and effect.
    Was the study funded by the American Orange Juice Association? lol

    August 18, 2013 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Emily Wells

    "The latest study...found an association between drinking more than 28 cups of coffee a week and an increased risk of death from all causes, in people 55 years old and younger." You've got a strong story here. Quick! Somebody tell the internet!

    August 18, 2013 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Peter

    Just like everything else that Americans don't understand: MODERATION is the key.
    Lets use water for an example. If you don't drink enough water, you will die of dehydration. But if you drink too much water, you could die of water poisoning or dilutional hyponatrmia. Too much or too little will kill you, but there is a wide range in between where we find balance.
    The point of the story is that some coffee is good, but that doesn't mean that more is better.

    August 18, 2013 at 14:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Caroline MacDougall

    I wonder why this study has ignored the JAMA published study about the gene in the liver that detoxifies caffeine? If anyone was paying attention to our genetic differences, it would be evident that one size does not fit all in the coffee drinking world. Studies that claim it is safe or not safe to drink X# of cups of coffee should determine first if they are analyzing data from slow or fast metabolizers of caffeine. People under the age of 59 with the slow metabolizing version of the CYP1A2 genotype were shown to have twice the risk of sudden heart attack if they drank 4 or more 8 oz cups of coffee a day than people who drank only 1 cup. The risk quadrupled for people under the age of 50. So please, let's not have any more of these epidemiological studies unless the researchers can distinguish between slow and fast metabolizers. Then we could have a fact-based conversation about how much coffee is safe for whom.

    August 18, 2013 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. paul

    Many people who drink 4-5 cups a day are people working crazy shifts or aren't getting enough sleep. So its the lack of sleep thats killing them!

    August 18, 2013 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Barbara

    Last week it was good for you...

    August 18, 2013 at 16:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Barbara

    and who can afford to live til 80?

    August 18, 2013 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. romanlaugh

    New study conducted by people who read most of these studies reveals that medical studies like this are not just contradictory but hilarious as well!! The prediction that smoking will be found to be healthy in the future ( from Woody Allen's "Sleeper" ) may yet come to pass!

    August 18, 2013 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Henry

    Just wait two weeks and there will be a study saying if we drink 55 cups weekly we can walk on wter and live to be 150. How can any of these studies be taken seriously when the results bounce all over creation? Publicizing them is irresponsible.

    August 18, 2013 at 18:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Carey

    As a relatively informed consumer, I am SICK of all this back-and-forth "health news." One week we read that coffee has beneficial effects, the next week it's going to put you in an early grave. I am sure I'm not the only one who no longer wants to read ANY health-related news. Do you really have to make a controversy out of everything? Sheesh. Why don't you write articles about pyramid power or something equally useful/

    August 18, 2013 at 22:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Steve

    What does DR. Sanjay Ganja have to say about this?

    August 19, 2013 at 04:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. My02cents

    A year ago, almost to the date CNN put out an article on how coffee is good for you. Is this a joke, or are we that unsure of what we say that we consistently contradict ourselves?

    August 19, 2013 at 08:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Tom Spafford

    Arghhh...another "robocopy" article. One site posts it, and voila, it appears everywhere, basically word-for-word, cut-and-paste.

    There are other, conflicting articles: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/247583.php

    It's all about causing the panic, baby!

    August 19, 2013 at 08:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. GeorgeBos95

    What these contradictory studies do prove is that the money spent on most, if not all, of these studies was a total waste.

    August 19, 2013 at 09:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. beernpizzalover

    The best part of waking up is Folgers in my cup!

    August 19, 2013 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Kate

    Are we talking coffee or caffeine here? What about tea? We all know sodas are not good for us but I keep hearing about the benefits of tea and coffee. Do any of these studies really mean anything or is it just everyone's outcome is different so they try to state it as a study making us think they actually know something? I am not trying to be confrontational; I'm just confused.

    August 19, 2013 at 11:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. John Smith

    I don't know about the studies, but I do know that I've only been to the emergency room twice in the last 10 years - and both times it was on account of coffee. One of those times, something fantastically good had happened to me. I had a few stiff drinks of coffee to celebrate ... and discovered I couldn't remember my phone number. I phoned in, they said: Do not drive yourself to the hospital. I was close.

    August 19, 2013 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. onlymho

    relative size of coffee without consideration for relative strength – totally invalid comparison . . .

    August 19, 2013 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. JBR

    Chemical dependency increases the likelihood of all kinds of trouble. Best not to "need" anything that can lead to any type of imbalance. Try quitting some pattern of necessity for a while and evaluate. Feel better? Less dependent? More relaxed? Mindfulness trumps hyperanalysis, wisdom vs. knowledge. Natural stimulants / caffeine are just as likely to lead to some of the same side effects, eventually, as any harder synthetic stimulant- irritability can lead to seeking relief in other drugs like alcohol, weed etc. Seek balance naturally, enjoy less dependence / more freedom. Too tired? Dial life back and get more rest, eat better and exercise more. Drinking a ton of coffee is a red flag, whether its found to be "good" or bad.

    August 19, 2013 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Statistics

    Look at the table on page 5 of the study. There is only association in Group 1 which is not adjusted for weight, inactivity, alcohol consumption, smoking, body mass index, hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol. CNN you really need to read the study before reporting on a "new study."

    August 19, 2013 at 18:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Hickersonia

    "How are we supposed to decide how much coffee to drink, when the information about its health effects is ... confusing[?]?

    Decide based on something other than its health effects, perhaps?

    August 19, 2013 at 21:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Robin Burns

    Just one more reason to throw in the towel and do what makes you happy. "Studies" like this carry very little weight, even though most of us would love to increase our chances of living a longer life in good health. Obviously we can only be partially successful, and that depends on who says what about our lifestyles, genetics and environments. So enjoy life and don't stress about the next thing "science" comes up with to scare you, outside of a moderate dose of good nutrition and daily activity. Life's just too short for anything else.

    August 20, 2013 at 01:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Jubei

    What a silly article. How many years have humans been consuming coffee? Hellooooo? Nothing bad happened to the billions of people that hav drank coffee for aaaaahh verrrry looooong time!

    August 25, 2013 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Bre

    My great grandma literally drank a pot of black coffee a day, and she lived to be 107.
    I also heard 4 cups of coffee a day (for women) decreases your chance of depression.

    But at the end of the day just do whatever makes you happy. You could be the healthiest person alive but walk outside and get hit by a bus.

    August 29, 2013 at 01:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Mike

    Would not drinking too much coffee keep you from sleeping? A few years ago, there was a CNN article that said insomina is deadly for MALES and it stated it did not effect women like it did males so maybe that is what is going on. Anyway, chaulk yet another factor that shows MALES and not women are the weaker sex

    August 30, 2013 at 05:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Ken

    Odd how one report says to drink more coffee, now this one tells us it is harmful. Did LIPTON do the research for this and FOLGERS the one that said drink more coffee?

    September 4, 2013 at 04:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. EdL

    Great Day in the Morning! Another study by researchers! This one tops the study by researchers that discovered school girl pregnancies resulted from their addiction to motherhood. So far as coffee is concerned, after hundred+ years or coffee drinkers what took so long to realize it could cause early deaths? Were our researchers sleeping on the job? Certainly not, they were just diligently discovering many other things that are bad for us, killing us, hospitalizing us. Just can't keep track of them all!

    September 4, 2013 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. TN

    Moderation is always key! The natural standard had a posted an article similar to this in their own blog. Upon further digging in their database, you can also see the myriad of effects caffeine can have on your body. Generally, caffeine is seen as a relatively safe substance, but of course if you overdrive, there are bound to be consequences.

    September 6, 2013 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. mp

    The data in the study directly contradicts the message the authors are trying to send. The confidence interval for the 28 cups group overlaps all of the other groups' confidence intervals except for the 0 cups group. In other words, there are no statistically significant differences between the 28 cups group and all of the other groups (excluding the 0 cups group). Sure, the 28 cups group is statistically worse than the 0 cups group, but that is it. It is not any different from any other group. You can see this in the charts in the study. This should have been caught in the peer review.

    September 6, 2013 at 14:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. jd

    This is the last news people who drink coffee want to hear, so of course people are trotting out every argument that's ever been offered in favor of alcohol, cigars, and cigarettes.

    I'm sorry to tell you folks. I'm over 55 now. The only two times I have ever been taken to an emergency ward ... as in "don't drive yourself" ... were on account of coffee. It almost killed me twice.

    It wasn't alcohol, or smoking, or irresponsible behavior, it was coffee, pure and simple.

    Look at your coffee intake as an moderate addiction that can be regulated. And don't try to be smug that you can refute all the evidence.

    September 10, 2013 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
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    October 13, 2013 at 19:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. maeline

    Moderation is always key! The natural standard had a posted an article similar to this in their own blog. Upon further digging in their database, you can also see the myriad of effects caffeine can have on your body. Generally, caffeine is seen as a relatively safe substance, but of course if you overdrive, there are bound to be consequences.

    October 21, 2013 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
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  43. dsfgds

    Moderation is key. I few small cups a week isn't going to be that bad.... but f you are drinking something every single day, let alone multiple cups you are definately going to harm your body. If you eat the same food every single day that's not good for you. Just common sense. Water is really the only thing you should consume every day.

    January 15, 2014 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nobody you know

      Anytime some yahoo says, "It's just common sense," I find that it's nothing of the sort. Do you have anything in the way of research to back up your statement that someone who drinks coffee every day is "definately" (sic) going to harm his/her body? Post it.

      January 15, 2014 at 19:45 | Report abuse |
  44. the osama is in the coffee!

    holy smokes, batman! to the idiotmobile!

    January 16, 2014 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. that study was OTEC sponsored!

    OTEC – Organization of Tea Exporting countries – sri lanka, india.
    expect a brazil and columbia sponsored rebuttal study this time next year from the lab across the hall from this one.
    the scientists are laughing all the way to the local pizzeria.

    January 16, 2014 at 16:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Hope you guys are open to try it..


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