DR. ROLLINS: Death by coffee?

Scott Rollins
Free Press Health Columnist


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It’s 5 a.m. and the coffee is made. Every morning, I do “coffee yoga,” which is my short yoga routine while the coffee brews. A few years ago I woke up one morning and realized I’d had coffee every day, for decades. That’s just weird, I thought, and promptly quit drinking coffee for a month. I didn’t notice anything, except I missed that delicious aroma of the morning brew, so the coffee ritual continues.

I usually write my weekly columns accompanied by an early morning cup of coffee, and this morning is no different. Ponder the irony then that I would be commenting on a recent study that showed an association between coffee consumption and an increased death rate. As always, there’s more to the story and it may take me two cups of coffee to get there.

Published this month in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings is a study that examined more than 43,000 people and collected data going back 17 years, during which time 2,512 people died. A third of them died of heart disease but coffee consumption did not correlate with death from heart disease — interestingly, the increase in death associated with coffee intake was distinctly non-cardiac related.

The results showed that men of all ages who drank more than 4 cups of coffee per day had a 21% increased death rate, while in women the risk wasn’t found. However, in men younger than 55 years of age there was a 56% increased risk of death and in younger women the risk of death was increased 113% compared to those who did not drink coffee. These associated risks were not found in people who drank less than 4 cups of coffee per day. And by the way, a cup was defined as 8 ounces or less.

Previous studies have suggested an increased risk of death from coffee consumption, but most studies are weakened by the fact that many coffee drinkers are also smokers. When adjusting the data to account for smoking there has not been a strong indication that coffee increases the death rate.


Have heart, for there are numerous studies that show coffee consumption is not only safe but is actually associated with decreases in diseases such as stroke, heart failure, diabetes and dementia.

In 2012, Dr. Lanfranco D’Elia from the Federico II University of Naples, Italy, reported on their study examining the risk of stroke as it relates to coffee consumption. Approximately 484,700 participants were followed for up to 24 years during which time 7,272 strokes occurred. It was found that modest coffee consumption of up to 3 cups per day was associated with a 14% decreased risk of stroke, while higher consumption did not increase risk of stroke.

A Scandinavian study from 2012, published in Circulation, showed a decrease is the risk of heart failure in coffee drinkers who consumed about 2 cups per day. As consumption increased to 4 cups, risk reduction disappeared and above 5 cups per day risk started slightly increasing.

Diabetes risk goes down with coffee intake and declines even further with decaffeinated coffee intake. A 2006 study from the Archives of Internal Medicine examined 28,812 women over an 11-year period and found the more coffee they drank the less risk they had for diabetes. More than 6 cups per day was associated with a 22% decrease in diabetes, while decaf drinkers fared even better with a 33% reduction in diabetes.

Abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias, have also been shown to be reduced in coffee drinkers, and drinking decaf did not seem to add any benefit. A group of 130,000 participants in the Kaiser healthcare system were studied and it was shown that drinking more than 4 cups of coffee per day was associated with an 18% reduction in hospitalizations for arrhythmia, while there was no change in risk of heart disease in general.

Coffee has clearly been shown to increase mental and physical performance in numerous studies, as any coffee drinker can tell you. It has also been associated with a significant reduction in the risk of dementias such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.


Coffee beans, similar to cocoa beans and tea leaves, contain a few healthy vitamins and minerals, but it is the power-packed anti-oxidant chemicals called polyphenols that seem to be the real benefit to coffee drinkers. In fact, studies show coffee is the main source of anti-oxidants in our American coffee culture.

The anti-oxidant effect of coffee may be the link to lower rates of certain diseases in which oxidation and inflammation seem to play a role in their development. By protecting the body from oxidative stress the anti-oxidants in coffee may protect delicate organs such as the pancreas in diabetes and neurons in dementias.

Caffeine is the other component in coffee that clearly impacts health. It increases brain activity by blocking an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine. The result is more norepinephrine and dopamine which lead to increased mental acuity markers such as mood, memory, reaction time and general cognitive function.

Metabolism and physical performance are also increased by caffeine intake, via the ramping up of brain chemicals that increase metabolism and also by encouraging the breakdown of fat stores to be used for energy production.

Perhaps this latest study of coffee consumption lends credence to the old saying: “All things in moderation.” We should beware of the assumption that if a little of something is good then a lot is better. I’ll definitely stick to my 2 to 3 cup per day maximum of the joe, but meanwhile enjoy just another sip…

Scott Rollins, M.D., is board certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado ( and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics ( Call 970-245-6911 for appointments or more information.

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