Touchy Topic Tuesday: What About This Four-Cups-of-Coffee Bombshell?

It’s been all over the news: a study published last week in Mayo Clinic Proceedings indicates that drinking more than four cups of coffee a day may be hazardous to your health, particularly if you are under 55.

The researchers found that younger men who passed the 28-cup weekly threshold – which works out to about four cups per day – had a 56 percent increased risk of death from all causes. Younger women who were heavy coffee drinkers had a greater than two-fold increased mortality risk. A cup was defined as eight ounces of coffee.

“The older people, over 55, were not affected by these high amounts of coffee,” study co-author Dr. Chip Lavie, a cardiologist at the in New Orleans, said in a video statement.

This directly contradicts oodles of other recent studies, which have linked a regular coffee habit to a range of benefits — from a reduced risk of stroke and Type 2 diabetes, to a protective effect against Parkinson’s disease.

So what’s that about?

Scientists, of course, are cautious, as are all the journalists who reported last week on this startling bit of news. Here at Practical Bodywork, however, we dare to speculate. And our totally un-researched, gut response was: Duh.

Because drinking coffee isn’t lethal. STRESS is lethal. If you are drinking thirty-two ounces of coffee, every single day, I may know nothing about you, but I can make a few guesses. Just by sheer statistical implication, it’s likely that:

This is assuming you’re not troubled with insomnia, headaches or anxiety, in which case, why are you even THINKING of drinking coffee?

No, assuming that you are a relatively healthy person without a trace of masochism, who savors her daily dose of mild stimulant, there is no reason for you to panic. But if you’re showing signs of even one of the bullet points above, you’re like the race-car driver who cleverly decides to cut his overhead by firing his pit crew.

In plain terms: when you are resting, that’s when your body does preventive maintenance. It uses sleep time, relaxation time and adequate vitamins to check the belts and hoses, change the oil, upgrade the transmission and clean the spark plugs. If you’ve got your foot on the gas, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, I can guarantee you that something is getting overlooked.

Interestingly, the selfsame study disclosed that people over 55 can drink an unlimited amount of coffee with no statistical ill effects. I can only suppose that these people won the BMWs of the genetic lottery; revving their engines only tunes them up.

So coffee almost certainly isn’t Satan. Quitting coffee for the sake of quitting coffee makes no sense unless you’re allergic. But if you’re using ANY substance as a means of ignoring your body’s perfectly reasonable needs, that’s just asking for trouble.

2 thoughts on “Touchy Topic Tuesday: What About This Four-Cups-of-Coffee Bombshell?”

  1. Thanks for this op-ed blog about the dangers of stress as they relate to the risks of dependence on caffeine. Personally, I enjoy about 12-16 oz. on most days (“enjoy” – not “need” – is the operative word here). I have thought about weaning myself off of that relatively small amount, but I do feel that my brain and body respond positively to a little jolt in the morning. If I drink more than 16 oz, especially later in the day, I notice that it sometimes gives me a headache, makes me feel jittery and leads to digestive distress of various kinds (yuck!). Interestingly, I’m willing to quit cold turkey only when I’m sick and don’t have any desire to be stimulated by anything! Otherwise, in my experience, a small amount of caffeine within an hour or two of rising seems to enhance my cognitive and physical performance at work (personal training). I just wonder how physically vs. psychologically dependent I am on it for that reason. Could I be as good at what I do without it?

  2. Hey Kate! I have no problem with that little daily boost, either. Sixteen ounces of coffee have been responsible for most of the blog posts I’ve ever written. 🙂

    Currently I’m starting a mild detox diet, and am going caffeine-free as a first step. Caffeine withdrawal gives me two or three days of headaches, so I’m getting it out of the way before going whole hog with the meat-dairy-gluten-free part of the regimen. It is totally no fun to be eating brown rice and greens with a splitting headache.

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