Coffee associated with the opposite of death, according to new scientific study

"Sexy girl in coffee beans," by Marcel Jancovic, via Shutterstock.

A large prospective study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that "coffee consumption was inversely associated with total and cause-specific mortality."

In other words, data showed that there is a connection between drinking coffee and not necessarily dying. Sort of.

"Whether this was a causal or associational finding cannot be determined from our data," the summary concludes.

Boing Boing science editor Maggie Koerth-Baker is on the road today, so I can't enlist her science-fu in interpreting the details of this study. But I think what they're trying to tell us is that while drinking coffee does not necessarily cause you to live longer, it is associated with the opposite of dying sooner. I'm going to have a cup while you all argue it out in the comments.


  1. Do we get to talk about the “sexy girl in coffee beans” Photoshop disaster, too?

    1. Oh, god. I didn’t even notice. She’s in some sort of rock tumbler filled with coffee beans that’s completely de-texturized her.

      1. Are we agreed that the model is a she? I honestly can’t tell. Which is (unintentionally) cool, sort of…
        …*oh gahh, I take it back. I have witnessed the links below, and I am feeling like hitting myself in the brain with an alcohol from grain :/

      1. And not just one kind of pasta either, it looks like she caters to the elbow macaroni and fusilli markets too. I’m guessing there’s also a set of kope luwak photos behind some paywall for those with more specialized tastes.

        1. There’s also a photo of the same model offering you a half-eaten strawberry or showing you a cockroach in her cheese sandwich. This site has an illustration for every scenario.

    2. I figured it was just makeup. Not sure it isn’t.

      If they shopped it, why didn’t they shop out the wisps of hair at the top, or the coffee bean stains on her hand?

      1. Because almost nobody thinks, “I’m going to fuck her hand.”  Not saying NOBODY …just almost nobody.

    1. I am an ex-web developer (15+ years) & current full-time sysadmin off of coffee & I can’t agree more.

      Back in the pre-web & burgeoning web days of the mid-1990s I drank coffee like crazy. And paid the price.  My family also has a history of heart condition, so I needed to pay attention to this.  When I was drinking 2-3 cups of coffee a day I became sickly, pale & had horrible sleep patterns. I switched to decaf, then tea, then green tea & now herbal tea & life is better. But I still have the occasional caffeinated beverage, but I am far more aware of what it does to me, when I should have it & when I definitely shouldn’t.

      I have also read that an after meal cup of coffee is good because it helps stimulate the gall bladder.  But the same reaction can be had by drinking tea, having a teaspoon of some bitters or even having those mixed spices they have in Indian restaurants.

      But if you drink coffee like crazy, I really doubt you are giving your internal system a break.  And some people also don’t know their limits. Not to mention the sheer size of cups of coffee in most places is just large.   If you are drinking more than 6 ounces per cup of coffee that should count as not a simple “cup” of coffee.

      Portions & excess.  That is the 21st century consumption problem.

      1. Pretty similar to my negative reactions. I rarely even drink it because when I come done from the high when I do, my head feels hollow.  I also find that if I get addicted and drink it every day, I have to have something with it, something sweet. Up go the calories, and out goes my belly.

      2. Why did you switch to green tea? It has more caffeine per cup than coffee. On the other hand, I find it’s coffee’s acidity that affects me more than the caffeine.

          1. Yeah, I guess that doesn’t make any sense. I was trying to work out why I remembered that particular bit of false information, it may be from a page like this one (not that particular page, it was a few years ago). I think the truth is that dry tea leaves contain more caffeine by weight, but as more coffee grounds go into a cup of coffee, there’s significantly more caffeine in coffee per cup. From what I can tell though, there’s more caffeine in green tea than you’d expect, often more than in black tea (depending on the website you look at, they all seem to state different quantities).

          2. Totally depends on the tea and how strong you brew it. Drink some generic teabag tea in the US, yeah, it’ll have the caffeine content of sawdust. Drink high-quality sencha in Japan (where you use like a heaped tablespoon of leaves per tiny cup) and it’ll make any espresso seem weak.

        1. Yes, it’s the acidity, which you can tame a few different ways.  You can restrict your intake of OTHER acidic foods, so that coffee is your prime source.  You can take omeprazole or some other PPI to tame your stomach.  You can also get outside for walks, and exercise more.  You can lose weight.  You can restrict your coffee to morning and some in the early afternoon, so that you can eat pasta sauce for dinner and not feel too acidic when you lie down to sleep later on.  There are a bunch of strategies.  NO, THE OBVIOUS DOES NOT APPLY HERE  UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES DO YOU REDUCE YOUR COFFEE INTAKE WHAT ARE YOU FREAKIN INSANE???

        2. Past what others have rightfully pointed out about your pointe being irrelevant because there are higher portions of coffee beans in a cup of coffee in comparison to green tea leaves in green tea, do you also realize that the form of caffeine in green tea doesn’t hit you as hard as the type of caffeine in coffee?

          With green tea you don’t get the immediate buzz you get with coffee.  It ramps up in you & keeps you stimulated longer.

          But past any of that, coffee is just tons worse on your system for reasons other than caffeine.  The acidity alone decimates your stomach if you drink too much of it.

          1. That’s pretty much what I just said (apart from the bit about the slower effects of caffeine in green tea).

      3. The study did say that it’s not linked to caffeine, since decaf drinkers fared about as well as caffinated drinkers. It may be just an association because of the typical lifestyle of a regular coffee drinker. Maybe they tend to be more affluent? Have access to better health care?  They don’t know and aren’t saying it has anything directly to do with the coffee itself.

    2. Here’s the best writeup I’ve seen:

      Well… I’ll admit that adopting a bit of skepticism regarding the latest widely reported medical news story is always a good idea, but I’m not very impressed by Klein’s commentary, given that he
      a) Misreads the the NEJM press release (the strongest effect was for drinking 4-5 cups per day, not “6 or more”);
      b) Comes disturbingly close to intimating that drinking coffee might cause you to do other things that are bad for your health (“The study’s researchers found that coffee drinkers were more prone to engage in a whole host of unhealthy activities.” Well, yes, these are known associations — but it’s not as though the researchers were claiming that drinking coffee also causes you to smoke…)

      And I’m more than a little dubious when he says,”But when they [researchers] looked at coffee-drinkers who had those bad health habits, the risk of death was actually higher.” That’s sloppy writing, at best. (Does drinking coffee actually increase mortality among those with bad health habits, or does it just fail to cancel out the increase due to the bad habits themselves?)

      Actually, the Reuters report that Klein links to at the end of his post is significantly better:

  2. “It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion.
     It is by the beans of Java that the thoughts acquire speed,
     The hands acquire shakes, the shakes become a warning.
     It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion.”

  3. I’m not sure you can say “Coffee associated with the opposite of death,” but you could maybe say “Coffee drinkers less associated with death.” 

    They also note that many other factors had to be corrected out (such as age and tobacco use – they say coffee drinkers are more likely to smoke). And they excluded people with heart disease, cancer, and strokes, so if those things ail you this study says nothing about it.

    So their conclusion is suitably conservative. They don’t claim that coffee drinking reduces your association with death. They do notice a correlation but don’t know the cause, and there may be other factors they’re not accounting for.

    edit: oh, and this is one of the most appropriate (yet still very funny) silly stock images I can recall BB using. And I think I’ll go make some coffee.

  4. I drink a lot of coffee, so I hope that this is right.  But the article says that people who drink coffee are more likely to smoke, and they factor that out. What if something in coffee fights the harmful effect of cigarette smoking?  Then coffee wouldn’t help us non-smokers as much. Perhaps they could break out the numbers and compare non-smoking coffee drinkers to non-smoking caffeine-free folk.

    1. Nicotine increases the rate at which the body can metabolise caffeine, so that caffeine you drink is hanging around longer at higher concentrations than it would for a smoker.  Another aspect you’d also have to adjust for… 

      Double espresso please, and can I have an ashtray?

      1.  Doesn’t speeding metabolisation actually cause faster uptake and thus expulsion of a compound?

        1. Yup. That was my point, perhaps not made clearly. For a given intake of coffee, a smoker will generally have lower caffeine blood serum concentrations after a few hours.

    2. If the effect was minimal for nonsmokers, this would have presumably been interesting enough to mention up front in the press release. So I’d guess that the effect is there for both smokers and nonsmokers.

    1. I saw another headline on this subject that read “Coffee lowers risk of death.” I’m pretty sure the risk of death is still 100%, though Ray Kurzweil might disagree.

  5. The real important aspect of this story is the fact that coffee is not even correlated with a higher rate of mortality.  For years, in study after study scientists have been trying to prove that coffee is bad for you.  Unfortunately or fortunately depending upon your perspective coffee has consistently been shown to have no detrimental effect on human health. 

    It has been shown fairly consistently to have a modest benefit to human health.  Thus, one of lifes simple pleasures is actually good for you, or at worst not bad for you.  Suck it, all you food nazis trying to strip every enjoyable food and beverage from our lives.


    1. For years, in study after study scientists have been trying to prove that coffee is bad for you. 


      And their supposed motive is . . . ?

  6. Coffee and beer are the two essential fluids of physics. It’s like having two pedals in your car. One to make your brain go, and one to make it stop going when you’re finished with it.

    “I die every night.” “But he’s born again every morning.” — The Firesign Theater.

    1. So that’s why you physics guys know nothing about the real world – high on caffeine while you’re doing your field equations or whatever, then straight to the sauce!

      1. You can always put amphetamine in your morning coffee – a gram of speed instead of sugar.

    1.  Yeah. Coffee-drinking is so pervasive in our society that I’d imagine that people that abstain have more stomach or heart issues than average.

        1. I’m sorry for your loss.  I’ll drink your share and make you some tea. OH, btw, it gives me palpitations, cramps and irritability… which is precisely why I drink it.

  7. As someone who lives in Kona, drinks a pot of coffee a day and spends all day staring at Photoshop on the screen in front of me, I approve of this post.  It’s a good story with a moral I can get behind, and the coffee bean girl with features pasted onto a featureless surface made me smile.  Just because fashion shooters can get away with it, doesn’t mean it’s a good look for your photo illustration stock shot.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to pour another cup of coffee and get back to the pixel mines.

  8. It wasn’t too long ago that some other group was desperately ringing the alarm bells and shrieking that coffee would kill us all, curse at our children and touch our pets in unsavory ways.

    Either way, it isn’t going to stop me having a cuppa now and again.

  9. Of course not. Dead people cannot drink coffee. Therefore, people drinking coffee are the opposite of dead. 

  10. Is the opposite of death: undeath? Do zombies drink more coffee? or does drinking coffee make us zombies? Off to drink some and find out

    1.  Right?  I feel like a zombie, then I drinka the coffee, then i become alive.

      Also: death is a part of life.  So the opposite of death is…  never having lived?

      Or: a universe where nothing lives?

      And in a universe where nothing lives – there can be no coffee.

  11. Caffeine may not actually extend my life, but while buzzed off my ass it sure can make a moment seem longer than it was.

  12. Alternative practitioners (homeopaths, healers) are the ones who says coffee is bad for you. Although it is a natural product!

    Scientists have not proved that coffee is good, but the available data certainly suggest it. 

  13. Coffee may or may not extend my life, but who cares?  Life without coffee for a few extra weeks of senescence hardly seems like a good bargain.

    Moderation I can handle though, usually.

  14. Greg Rucka wrote that consuming caffeine is like borrowing from the future, borrowing energy. I think of that when I’ve used up my caffeine receptors, again, and have to suffer the embarrassment of quitting coffee, again.

  15. AARP = all test subjects living in USA environments? Often wondered if the putative long-term health benefits associated with drinking alcohol could be due to the lack of public spaces apart from bars (and churches) in American towns. If you drank alcohol, you went out and talked to people. If you didn’t drink, you didn’t chat with strangers, for decades on end. A similar argument could now be made for American test subjects and caffeine, now that cafés have appeared on the landscape.

  16. Who else checked her nostrils for beans? Extra Credit, and then asked themselves, Why Not?

  17. It’s one of the 4 main food-groups: Nicotine, Caffeine , Alcohol and Cholesterol!

  18. In the future, scientists will learn that, not only is coffee associated with not dying, it is also much more comfortable than being frozen in carbonite. 

    I mean, look how relaxed she is!

    1. But, OMFG, look what it did to her skin.

      Between that skin and the story, its almost enough to make me reconsider one of  my favorite quotes of my wife’s* – “A life without coffee is not worth living”.

      *she’s since reconsidered that herself and has given up the habit. I’m still at like ten cups a day, pretty much my only vice, but the story makes me feel like a badly duped junky responding to a drug and, perhaps, also marketing influences.

      1. A life without coffee is not worth living.

        I feel that way about heroin.

  19. i think breathing is also closely associated with the opposition of death…. we should all breath more. 

  20. “Whether this was a causal or associational finding cannot be determined from our data” – but it’s good enough for me! Let’s start brewing!

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