In praise of high-calorie coffee

2 minute read

There's an interesting convergence of health news today. Remember that story that overweight people live longer? Another conclusion was that underweight people died sooner. That's possibly surprising, since caloric restriction is supposed to increase longevity, a finding long known from studies in mice. Of course, the skinny people who are dying young may not be "calorie-restricted" in the sense the mice were, and it is perhaps very likely that the people don't have the vitamin and mineral balance promoted by caloric restriction advocates. But if you think that eating less will make you live longer, it should give you pause.

Well, now there is this Reuters story, reporting on research by John Phelan and Michael Rose:

"Our message is that suffering years of misery to remain super-skinny is not going to have a big payoff in terms of a longer life," said Phelan, an evolutionary biologist, in a statement.

Of course, how do you really test this in humans? Simple, find a natural experiment:

"In Japanese populations, for example, the normal male diet is approximately 2,300 kilocalories (calories) per day," they wrote and the average life span for a Japanese male is 76.7 years.
"Sumo wrestlers, however, consume an average of approximately 5,500 calories per day and have a life expectancy of 56 years," they added.
People living on the Japanese island of Okinawa eat somewhat less than the average Japanese. They also live slightly longer. This could give a basis for calculating the benefits of eating less.
Calculations based on the Okinawa and sumo wrestler data suggest that if Japanese people ate just 1,500 calories a day, the longest average life span attainable would be just under 82 years, Phelan and Rose wrote.

Of course, there is also the possibility that sumo wrestlers aren't exactly genetically representative of other Japanese, and likewise for Okinawans. And it's not obvious that the long-term effects in these samples will necessarily be like short-term effects in other populations. But still, it would sure give me pause before suffering through many years of not eating as much.

There is possibly another way to increase lifespan -- decrease the level of oxygen free radicals, which lead to many of the chronic diseases that induce early (and late) death.

In that vein, there is this story that coffee is the leading source of antioxidants for most Americans. Yes, drinking coffee might make you live longer.

They concluded that the average adult consumes 1,299 milligrams of antioxidants daily from coffee. The closest competitor was tea at 294 milligrams. Rounding out the top five sources were bananas, 76 milligrams; dry beans, 72 milligrams; and corn, 48 milligrams. According to the Agriculture Department, the typical adult American drinks 1.64 cups of coffee daily.

And get this part:

Men who drank more than six 8-ounce cups of caffeinated coffee per day lowered their risk of type 2 diabetes by about half, and women reduced their risk by nearly 30 percent, compared with people who did not drink coffee, according to the study in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Just doing my part to shift the "no-fat half-caff" crowd back to normal sugared-up caramel ventis...