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Death by coffee?

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A new study from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings has found that people under 55 who drink more than four cups of coffee a day may be at greater risk of an early death. It may sound bleak but don’t panic just yet, the jury is still out in the medical community as to what health impacts coffee has.

With the rise of the modern caffeine addict, there have been a slew of studies in recent years centered on this very topic. The problem is, they’ve all come to different conclusions.

Earlier studies have shown that the high level of antioxidants in coffee actually help to lower mortality rates.

But, this latest study comes to a much more solemn conclusion for coffee drinkers. Tracking nearly 44,000 people for more than a decade the team looked at lifestyle factors such as coffee consumption, diet, exercise, and smoking and tracked the number of deaths in the group.

The results showed people under 55 who drank more than 28 cups of coffee per week were more likely to die of any given cause than people who drank less.

Dr. John Teeters is Chief of Cardiology at Highland Hospital. He says, because of its stimulant characteristics, coffee has been linked to heart disease risks in the past – things like higher blood pressure or arrhythmia.

But, this study doesn’t just stop with heart disease, it says under 55’s drinking a lot of coffee are at risk of early death from all causes.

With so many mixed results flying around Teeter says, when it comes to coffee, the logical advice for his patients is the same advice he gives for many other guilty pleasures, everything in moderation.

“As long as you’re being mindful and getting in exercise, and you’re trying to do the stress relieving things, and you’re doing the other healthy things you need to do, a couple of cups of coffee a day are certainly not going to be something you need to be worried about.”

Teeter says he’s much more concerned with the growing consumption of energy drinks which deliver the caffeine of four or more cups of coffee in just one can.

“More so than coffee, that’s where I see folks getting into trouble is when they use these energy drinks and especially if they try to combine them with NoDoz or some of these other sleep prevention, or stay awake kind of medications, is that that can deliver very rapidly, almost toxic levels of caffeine in very short periods of time,” says Dr. Teeters.

Teeters says the concern isn’t necessarily the amount of caffeine, but the time span in which it’s being ingested. He says if someone drinks four or five cups of coffee each day it’s usually spread out over many hours. But that’s not the case with energy drinks.

“Someone who drinks two or three energy drinks at a time, studying for an exam for instance, they’re getting four to five cups of coffee with every drink and getting that in a very finite window of time, so the risk exposure is much higher. So I’m much more apt to discourage patients from drinking the energy drinks than I am focusing on their coffee consumption.”

Teeters also says it’s important to note that this study showed a correlation between high levels of coffee consumption and early death, not a cause and effect relationship.

He says it’s always best for people to consult their doctor about issues like this before making any drastic changes in their lifestyle or routine.

So, before you swear off coffee and switch to tea, remember that studies like this one don’t boil down to something as simple as coffee = death.

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail