The researchers, who published their results in JAMA on Monday, found that those whose coffee intake was high fared the best.
The study provides more evidence that coffee drinking can be part of a healthy diet and offers reassurance to coffee drinkers. About one-third of those surveyed said they drank between two and three cups of coffee each day, and 10,000 of them drank eight or more cups each day.
"There has been concern about the health effects of heavy coffee drinking, particularly in participants with common genetic polymorphisms that affect caffeine metabolism", the researchers wrote. It includes about half a million Brits who contributed their data and DNA to the United Kingdom biobank, and it finds an inverse relationship between people drinking up to eight or more cups per day and all-cause mortality. Additionally, it took into account a wide range of drinking habits, from no caffeine up to eight cups of coffee per day, while also exploring associations with decaf and instant coffee.
They found non-coffee drinkers were more likely to have died than those that drunk coffee.
"Early on, there were some reports of potential adverse effects as far as coffee and health outcomes", said Alice Lichtenstein, the Gershoff Professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University. While the study represents an median view of coffee drinking habits, it is encouraging reading for lovers of the toasted bean.
However, despite the findings, the researchers are warning people not to significantly increase their coffee intake in a freaky quest for eternal life.
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The study from the U.S. National Cancer Institute used information from more than half a million British volunteers who provided blood samples and answered detailed health and lifestyle questions. If there were a big study on fruits and vegetables lowering the risk of dying, we'd all just shrug, she said.
"But here's a situation where there was always some feeling of, 'Oh, can't be - I enjoy it too much, it can't be good for me.' And now we're finding out that it's good".
Other studies have suggested that substances in coffee may reduce inflammation and improve how the body uses insulin, which can reduce chances for developing diabetes.
Caffeine can cause short-term increases in blood pressure, and some smaller studies have suggested that it might be linked with high blood pressure, especially in people with a genetic variation that causes them to metabolise caffeine slowly. Over the course of the 10-year study, a little more than 14,000 people died.
The study didn't have enough data from people who drink that much coffee, Giovannucci said. But it turns out that even slow caffeine metabolizers seem to share the death-risk-reduction connected to coffee drinking.
As with all studies like this in which researchers observe a group of people over time, this study can't prove that coffee is the cause of the reduced risk of death.