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Healthy Coffee and Cigarettes

Coffee and cigarettes. Well, it turns out that one of them is good for you. As for e-cigarettes ... hold the conclusions.


A most enjoyable combination, back in the days when I thought I was immortal. Well, turns out that sticking with one of these is good for you.

This is not exactly news. Previous studies have suggested that coffee is a boon to health. Others, though, have suggested otherwise. Confusing–although at The Upshot last May, Aaron Carroll concluded, somewhat to his surprise, that research had already established that the potential health benefits of coffee “are surprisingly large.”

Note that we’re talking black coffee here. No cream/milk/half-and-half/nondairy creamer. No latte. And, above all, no caramel macchiato.

But the latest research–a 30-year study of 200,000 doctors and nurses–is even closer to definitive. That’s because when the researchers excluded smokers and former smokers from their study population, drinking coffee–decaf as well as regular–was associated with lowered mortality.

The sweetest spot appears to be 3-5 cups a day, which reduced risk of death by 15%, according to Nicholas Bakalar at Well. He notes, “Coffee drinking was linked to a reduced risk of death from heart disease, stroke, diabetes, neurological diseases and suicide, although not from cancer.”

Previous conflicting results were apparently due to the fact that coffee and cigarettes have so frequently been consumed together. So in some previous studies, the ill effects of smoking have been masking the good effects of coffee.

Note that these are observational results. They demonstrate only a correlation between coffee and lowered mortality. It’s not yet confirmed that coffee prevents these diseases–and why that might be so.

A CNN story, however, delved into potential good effects–not particularly of caffeine, but of other chemicals in coffee, which maybe reduce inflammation and control blood sugar. Coffee’s association with lower suicide rates is more mysterious. Do chemicals in coffee affect mental health? Or perhaps lifestyle factors such as employability?

HealthNewsReview praised the CNN piece, although it liked a piece at the new health pub STAT even more. That one is by the exceptional medical writer Sharon Begley, so praise is not too surprising.

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And now, on to cigarettes. E-cigarettes, to be precise. HealthNewsReview also tackled that thorny topic with a guest post by the fine medical writer Paul Raeburn. Raeburn was quite unhappy with an opinion piece by New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, the last in a string of them. Nocera argued that public health folks should embrace e-cigarettes as an effective way to stop smoking.

“Will e-cigs cut the death rate from lung cancer and heart disease? Nocera is certain the answer is yes, but the truth is that we just don’t know,” Raeburn says. Preliminary research shows, he argues, that e-cigarettes might encourage kids to start smoking.

Tabitha Powledge is an award-winning long-time science journalist, book author, and media critic. On Science Blogs is her weekly look at the craft and content of science blogging.