By Alice Park
To the age-old question “Is coffee bad for you?”, researchers are in more agreement than ever that the answer is a resounding “no.” A new study published in the journal Nature Medicine found that older people with low levels of inflammation — which drives many, if not most, major diseases — had something surprising in common: they were all caffeine drinkers.
“The more caffeine people consumed, the more protected they were against a chronic state of inflammation,” says study author David Furman, consulting associate professor at the Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection at Stanford University. “There was no boundary, apparently.”
In the study, Furman and his colleagues analyzed blood samples from 100 young and old people. The older people tended to have more activity in several inflammation-related genes compared with the younger group — no surprise, since as people get older, inflammation throughout the body tends to rise. Chronic diseases of aging, like diabetes, hypertension, heart problems, cancer, joint disorders and Alzheimer’s, are all believed to have inflammation in common. “Most of the diseases of aging are not really diseases of aging, per se, but rather diseases of inflammation,” Furman says. The more active these genes were, the more likely the person was to have high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.
What’s more, even among older people, those with lower levels of these factors were more protected against inflammation — and they had something else in common too. They all drank caffeine regularly. People who drank more than five cups of coffee a day showed extremely low levels of activity in the inflammatory gene pathway. Caffeine inhibits this circuit and turns the inflammatory pathway off, the researchers say.