If you’ve been scanning the health headlines today, you’ve probably seen the news that drinking too much coffee—more than 28 cups a week—will raise your risk of dying young. Sounds kind of scary right? But how many of us are actually drinking more than four cups of caffeinated coffee a day, even on the weekends?
Likely anyone who needs that much caffeine to get through their day also has other problems that might lead to poorer health. And, yes, the researchers did find that heavy coffee drinkers were more likely to smoke, drink heavily, and not exercise compared with those who drank little or no coffee.
The study, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, took all those factors into account and still found that the heavy coffee drinkers under age 55 were 20 percent more likely to die over a 17-year period. Those who were over age 55 didn’t have an increased death risk.
But there are so many caveats to this finding that many medical researchers would completely dismiss it as a statistical fluke.
Gregg Fonarow, co-chief of clinical cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, told USA Today that, “differences in other dietary factors, marital status and other socioeconomic factors that were not adjusted for in this study may account for some or all of these observations.”
The study researchers didn’t know, for example, whether the heavy coffee drinkers ate more fast food than those who drank less or were less likely to have health insurance. And while caffeine can certainly be toxic at high enough levels—triggering an irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and, in rare cases, heart attacks—those effects weren’t seen in this study. In fact, the group of young, heavy coffee drinkers were no more likely to die from heart disease than those who abstained.
That said, it’s certainly smart to follow the adage, all good things in moderation. There’s a new product called Death Wish Coffee that purportedly has twice the amount of caffeine, ounce per ounce, as a Starbucks coffee; if you’re the type to get caffeine headaches if you skip your morning brew, you may want to avoid this stronger drink to keep from having withdrawal effects.
Energy drinks may have even more caffeine than Death Wish Coffee and have been linked to several deaths in teens. As caffeine gets added to more foods lsuch as energy drinks, jelly beans, and Crystal Light, the US Food and Drug Administration has begun investigating to see whether these foods are leading to a rise in health hazards.
Too much coffee may be the least of our worries.