Coffee Study “Junk Science”

A questionable association between coffee drinking and longer life

TBE has nothing against coffee. But a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine  gave us pause. The study found an association between coffee drinking and longer life. “As compared with men who did not drink coffee, men who drank 6 or more cups of coffee per day had a 10% lower risk of death, whereas women in this category of consumption had a 15% lower risk.” It didn’t matter if the coffee was decaffeinated or caffeinated.

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As usual when research is published that gives scientific support to an already popular habit – eating chocolate, drinking wine – the media fell all over itself in a rush to amplify the buzz. And in this case, it seemed to be justified: This study wasn’t published some fly-by-night publication, but the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

Even great minds sometimes make errors.  Steven Nissen, MD, chair of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, and himself an author of research that has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, sees little merit in the coffee finding. “People should ignore this study,” he told TBE in an exclusive interview. “It provides no useful insights into the benefits or deficits of drinking coffee. It’s junk science.”

Dr. Nissen’s comments are consistent with  his long-held position that the only reliable way to establish medical verities is through randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. The coffee study, although it was conducted by the National Institutes of Health, was an observational study, whose findings may be suggestive, but do not establish a scientific point of reference.

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Confused about what scientific studies you should take seriously? This previous post  in TBE tells you “How to Separate Medical Fact from Fiction”.

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