Is coffee good for you? Well, if you're reading this article with your phone in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, we have some fantastic scientific news for you about the potential health benefits of coffee.
Researchers funded by the American Heart Association and the University of Colorado School of Medicine say they've uncovered an association between increased coffee consumption and better heart health.
In fact, the link was so strong that for every additional cup of coffee people drank, their risk of suffering heart failure or stroke went down 8 percent, compared to non-coffee drinkers. Here's the study, the context, what it tells us--and where more research is needed.
Machine learning and coffee data
Researchers used data from the Framingham Heart Study, which we've written about here before. This is the nation's longest-running epidemiological study, dating back to 1948, focusing originally on 5,209 people who lived in Framingham, Massachusetts. As time has passed, the next generation of city's residents was added to the data--and the next after that.
That all makes it a treasure trove of health data for scientists, and it's resulted in more than 1,000 academic research projects about life choices and health. But the tough part about having a ton of data sometimes is how challenging it can be to pull useful analysis from it.
Enter the Colorado researchers making news this week with their coffee findings, because they had an advantage over previous attempts--they were able to use machine learning to analyze it all. This is apparently a bit novel, so they backed it all up by also "using traditional analysis in two studies with similar sets of data" that had previously noted an "association between drinking coffee and a decreased risk of heart failure and stroke," according to an American Heart Association press release.
Net result? A strong correlation, at least, between increased coffee consumption and better heart health.
Wait, more red meat?
There's an additional finding here that the researchers came across. I have to interrupt here to share it, even though they aren't sure what to make of it.
We've all been told that eating red meat is risky from a health perspective, right? But the machine-learning analysis these University of Colorado medical school researchers used found the opposite result when they looked at red meat consumption among the same Framingham study participants.
"Eating red meat was associated with decreased risk of heart failure and stroke in the Framingham Heart Study," the heart association press release says. However, "validating the finding in comparable studies is more challenging due to differences in the definitions of red meat between studies."
For now, to put it all in layman's terms: coffee, good; red meat, well, not sure. I mean, I wouldn't go scarfing burgers and chops based on this alone, but it's an interesting finding.
The obvious disclaimers
There are some important and common disclaimers. First, this is a preliminary report. So far, researchers point only to a correlative relationship between coffee and less risk of heart trouble, not a causative one. Additionally, while this research was presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in Anaheim, California, a few days ago, it has yet to be presented in a peer-reviewed journal.
That said, it's not the first study that suggests a positive relationship between coffee consumption and heart health.
Of course there is the Cardiovascular Heart Study and the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, which were the studies against which the Colorado researchers compared their machine-learning results.
There's also a South Korean study from a few years ago involving more than 25,000 people, which found that drinking moderate amounts of coffee each day was associated with having fewer of the early warning signs of heart disease. (Hat tip on that one: Time.com.) And researchers at Stanford University found that increased caffeine intake seems inexorably linked to living longer.
So, even if we can't take it to the bank that more coffee definitively means less heart disease, the signs are pointing in that direction. And if you're as addicted to java as I am (I admit it), at least the data is pointing in the right direction.