Coffee lovers are a loyal crowd. Most pour out their morning cup of java for the flavor, the aroma, and the accompanying jolt of energy, rather than the health perks.
So they may not mind if doctors debate new research suggesting that coffee lovers live longer.
According to an article in today's New England Journal of Medicine, those who drank coffee at the beginning of a 13-year study had a slightly lower risk of death than others, whether they chose decaf or full-strength.
Coffee drinkers also were a little less likely to die from specific causes: heart disease, respiratory problems, strokes, injuries and accidents, diabetes and infections. Coffee offered no protection against cancer.
Drinking two to three cups of coffee a day lowered the overall risk of death 10%, says the study, funded by the National Cancer Institute and AARP.
"It's interesting that coffee is more healthful than harmful," says Frank Hu, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, who has studied the health effects of coffee, but wasn't involved in the new study.
Not so fast, says cardiologist Steve Nissen, of the Cleveland Clinic, who also wasn't involved in the new research. Asking people about their coffee consumption only once in 13 years can be misleading, since drinking habits change. Nissen notes the study didn't include vital medical information that affects longevity, such as cholesterol or blood pressure levels.
"This study is not scientifically sound," Nissen says. "The public should ignore these findings."
Neal Freedman, the study's lead author, acknowledges that the design of his study prevents it from definitively proving that coffee affects longevity.
"We wouldn't recommend that anyone go out and drink coffee based on these results," Freedman says. But he says his study could provide some "reassurance" that coffee didn't seem to cut patients' lives short.
Scientists still have unanswered questions about coffee, which contains more than 1,000 compounds that can affect the risk of death, Freedman says.