Does drinking coffee make life better? A new study of more than 500,000 people in countries across Europe says that people who drank a lot of coffee lived longer. Pixabay, public domain

Your coffee addiction might be your body’s way of telling you the secret to a long life: Drinking three cups a day might give you an advantage over people who don’t drink a good brew.

Researchers followed more than a half-million people across 10 countries in Europe over more than 16 years to determine the effect of drinking coffee on their lifespans, according to study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. In every country, “coffee drinking was associated with reduced risk for death from various causes.” Compared to people who didn’t drink coffee, the ones who drank the most had lower mortality levels overall, as well as lower mortality from specific illnesses, including circulatory diseases and digestive diseases, particularly liver diseases.

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These lower risk values were after the researchers had adjusted for other factors, like smoking, drinking alcohol and eating more red meats, all of which the biggest coffee drinkers were more likely to do.

It’s not just caffeine in coffee that gives people a boost. “Coffee drinking provides exposure to a range of biologically active compounds, and higher consumption has been linked with lower levels of inflammation, insulin resistance, and risk for diabetes,” the study notes. And in this research into longevity, which focused on people older than 35, it appeared even decaf was getting the job done.

Denmark had the highest median daily coffee consumption numbers of a little more than 30 ounces a day for both men and women — or the equivalent of about 2.5 average cups of coffee. That was 10 times more than in Italy, where people are more likely to drink a smaller espresso and which had the lowest daily levels at about 3 ounces a day.

“Our observed inverse association between coffee consumption and all-cause mortality was consistent across subgroups based on lifestyle, anthropometric, and dietary variables and was apparent for both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee,” the researchers wrote.

Despite the positive results, there were also cases of increased risk for coffee drinkers: According to the study, women who drank more coffee also had an increased risk of ovarian cancer, even though one or both sexes had lower mortality rates for other cancers, like liver and lung.

“To our knowledge, there is no prevailing hypothesis as to why coffee drinking should increase the risk for death specifically from ovarian cancer,” the study says. “Although this result may be spurious and requires follow-up in additional studies on ovarian cancer survival, we note that a positive association between coffee consumption and ovarian cancer incidence has previously been observed, although other prospective studies did not report similar relationships.”

Almost 42,000 people died during the study period, of various causes: Roughly 18,000 from cancer; 9,100 from circulatory diseases like coronary artery disease; and 2,380 from cerebrovascular conditions like strokes, among other causes.

The liver was an organ that fared especially well among the coffee drinkers.

“We found that drinking more coffee was associated with a more favourable liver function profile and immune response,” lead author Marc Gunter said in a statement from Imperial College London. “This … gives us greater confidence that coffee may have beneficial health effects.”

Read: Humans With Higher Heart Disease Risk Are Also More Fertile

Coffee May Be Good, But What About Caffeine?

Although there have been numerous studies into the possible health benefits and negative consequences of drinking coffee and they have produced mixed results, the study also noted that similar research specifically into the link between mortality of all causes and coffee drinking in the United States and Japan showed similar results.

One question that remains is how much of a role caffeine plays. Although the research says there was a decreased risk of mortality for people who reported drinking decaf, it was not clear how much they had consumed caffeinated coffee in the past. More research would also be required to find out what compounds in coffee are the ones that benefit a person’s health.

“Due to the limitations of observational research, we are not at the stage of recommending people to drink more or less coffee,” Gunter warned. “That said, our results suggest that moderate coffee drinking — up to around three cups per day — is not detrimental to your health, and that incorporating coffee into your diet could have health benefits.”