Are Long-Term Coffee Drinkers Stronger? One Study Suggests So

Posted on May 2, 2024

Moka Pot Coffee being poured into an enamel cup in nature
By now, we've all heard the revolving carousel of long-term coffee health claims:
  • Loads of antioxidants… but somewhat acidifying.
  • Neuroprotective effects! Slightly dehydrating…
  • Great for the blood sugar response—increase in cortisol.

For decades, research into the health effects of coffee has been dizzying, to say the least. That may have changed with the completion of one of the largest longitudinal studies ever conducted on the effects of coffee and caffeine on various measures of vitality.
Could the world's most socially acceptable stimulant be a veritable panacea for basic markers of strength and vitality? How does it compare with previous research? How did we get hooked on the world's most popular bean (technically, a seed) anyway?


An International Sensation

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages worldwide, but since it isn't grown everywhere, the question arises: How and when did coffee achieve beverage hegemony?

Due to Dutch and British trade, tea had already achieved a certain level of international prominence well before the 1700s. In fact, early American tea houses served as veritable brain trusts for revolutionaries and British loyalists alike.

That was before hostilities broke out, prompting patriots to ditch tea and take up coffee, which had also been available in old New York, however underappreciated. Until, that is, dissatisfaction with British taxes on tea propelled coffee to its iconic role in American culture just before the Revolutionary War.

You could say Western cultures, having developed a penchant for caffeine for decades, were an easy sell on tea's bigger, badder, bolder second cousin. Missionaries, traders, and travelers from a handful of countries deepened global trade routes further, bringing coffee with them as they went.

These efforts sowed the seeds of coffee's rise to global acceptance, fulfilling its role today as a near-universally loved pick-me-up for people the world over. Of course, its popularization also came with a fair share of controversy over its health and social merits (how far we've come!).

Perhaps that had something to do with the USA's dramatic reduction in coffee consumption over the latter half of the 20th century. Believe it or not, the rebound in consumption of t
he early 21st century, fueled by an influx of corner side cafés, wasn't the staple it was in the post-WWII era.

Yet, as more definitive research mounts on coffee’s long-term health effects, we can at least more firmly decide whether it deserves a place in our own breakfast nook.



Evaluating the Long-Term Effects of Coffee: A Potent Inhibitor of Physical Frailty?

The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine (JAMDA) studied the long-term effects of coffee, tea, and caffeine on over 12,500 Chinese adults living in Singapore.
Researchers tested t
he "physical frailty" levels of participants after 20 years of caffeine (primarily coffee) consumption. The participants, who had a mean age of 53 in the 90s, performed several frailty tests 20 years later, which researchers correlated with self-reported caffeine consumption rates before publishing the results in 2023.


Physical Frailty

Physical frailty, as a medical term, denotes "diminished strength, endurance, and reduced physiologic function" that leads to "vulnerability for developing increased dependency and/or mortality when exposed to a stressor."
The researchers tested several factors comprising a "physical frailty phenotype":
  • Weight loss, compared with the participant's weight from approximately a decade ago
  • Exhaustion, determined by self-assessment
  • Slowness, using the "timed up and go" (TUG) test, from seated to standing position
  • Weakness, based on handgrip strength

The 2023 JAMDA study wasn't the first to suggest a correlation between long-term coffee or tea consumption and reduced frailty—but it is the most rigorous and only the second published longitudinal study on the subject. While that study didn't find the same link between frailty and coffee consumption, it did show an association between two or more cups of coffee and increased mobility.



In the JAMDA study, researchers made statistical adjustments for certain comorbidities, sociodemographic factors, diet, sleep durations, and more. They also excluded those over age 60 (when the study began) who also had a history of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, or diabetes.

The findings showed a dose-dependent association between total daily caffeine consumption (84% of which was from coffee) and lower measures of frailty. Those who drank four or more cups of coffee performed over twice as well on frailty tests than their less javanated counterparts.

Predictably, those who were frailer at the end of the study tended to have had a higher BMI at midlife and more ongoing comorbidities, such as cardiovascular disease, smoking, and physical inactivity (compared with their non-frail counterparts). Note that it's impossible to control for all variables in a study of this kind. Many participants wind up disqualified from completing the study (and, in this case, pass away).

Nevertheless, it suggests that higher coffee consumption might translate to greater long-term resilience in old age. To the extent one can trust that these correlations are likely also causations, it paints a more insightful picture of coffee's long-term beneficial effects.


A Closer Look at Coffee's Health Benefits

A Potent Double-Edged Sword

Much of the research on coffee's benefits has been hard to sift from its potential drawbacks, allowing (or somewhat compelling) people to project their pet theories onto the world's most widely consumed caffeinated substance.

Coffee and caffeine's role as potent memory aids may help students cram for exams, for instance, but is it worth greater potential sleep disruption? The key, as with anything in life, is a judicious approach. Arguments abound over whether coffee's benefits outweigh its costs, but with more intellectual rigor, the dialogue shifts to exactly how to use coffee in the long term for optimal results.


Wielding It Wisely

It is undisputed that drinking coffee long-term has many benefits. Familiarizing yourself with its extensive benefits is the first step in deciding where coffee fits into your lifestyle.

Most broadly, Annals of Internal Medicine research on coffee consumption and all-cause, cancer, and cardiovascular-related death found a 29% reduction in mortality for those who drank 4.5 cups of coffee. Over 4.5 cups met with diminishing returns, as did sugar and artificially sweetened coffee.

Interestingly, this study also showed certain positive correlations with decaffeinated coffee (although it's less effective for preventing frailty).

It goes to show that coffee's benefits aren't solely attributable to caffeine, effective though it is at raising various measures of sports performance (with certain qualifications), as well as cognition and reaction time (where the greatest benefits come at lower doses).


Disease-Fighting Properties

What people generally love most about coffee is caffeine, but it's far from coffee's only bioactive compound. Coffee also includes a host of polyphenols (such as caffeic acid) that are characterized by:
  • Antioxidant content

  • Anti-inflammatory compounds

  • Cancer-fighting properties

  • Reduction in hypertension (high blood pressure)

  • Protection from diabetes and insulin resistance

  • Inhibition of atherosclerosis

Researchers believe polyphenols, in general, help reduce the onset of certain acute and chronic diseases, including:
  • Obesity

  • Neurodegenerative diseases

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Metabolic syndrome

Other studies into the disease-fighting effects of coffee as a whole (not just its constituents) corroborate many of these claims and further evidence positive effects on:
  • Gallstones

  • Liver disease

  • Cancer

  • Insulin resistance

Yet further research points to long-term coffee having beneficial effects on:
  • Lung function

  • Depression

  • Weight loss


Higher Cognitive Functions

The memory-inducing effects of coffee come with enhanced neurocognitive function, marked by the formation of more efficient brain neural networks and demonstrable improvements in cognitive performance, including:
  • Executive functioning

  • Attention and working memory

  • Short-term and delayed recall

The researchers theorized that the mechanism(s) behind these improvements are associated with several intriguing effects caffeine has on neurotransmitters and receptors, namely:
  • Blocking the inhibitory properties of adenosine (an essential building block of energy-producing substances)

  • Release of dopamine and norepinephrine (two of the three "get up and go" catecholamines) and glutamate (the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain)

  • Net increase in nervous system and cardiovascular activity


Potential Risks and Considerations


Sadly, most commercial coffees are largely inorganic and heavily laden with pesticides. It's important to select only the purest form of coffee available to prevent tapping the brakes on your health just as you're hitting the throttle!



Even with the highest-quality coffee, the potential for caffeine withdrawal can be an issue in some people. Avoiding this is generally a matter of respecting your tolerance limits, timing your use more intentionally (e.g., before a workout), or moderating your daily use—but with the caveat that the JAMDA study showed the greatest protection against frailty among those who drank four or more cups of coffee per day.


How Much Is Too Much?

The right amount of coffee or caffeine is highly personal and depends on caffeine sensitivity, body weight, metabolism, and other factors. Whether increasing or decreasing caffeine/coffee, the safest bet is to do so gradually. This begs the question: how much caffeine is in a cup of coffee?

According to the FDA, a single cup (8 fl oz or 237 mL) of drip coffee contains an average of 80–100 mg of caffeine (generally comparable to two shots of espresso). The exact amount can widely vary for growing conditions, variety, and roasting method, with some varieties containing as much as 170 mg and others closer to 60.

It's important to be aware of the side effects of caffeine if taken in excess. The most common symptoms of caffeine overdose include:

  • Insomnia

  • Anxiety

  • Speeding heart rate

  • Feeling "jittery"

  • Nausea and other stomach problems

  • Headache

  • General discomfort


Practical Implications and Recommendations


If you heed the implications of the JAMDA study, drinking four cups of coffee per day may be optimal. The Annals of Internal Medicine study on coffee and mortality corroborates this suggestion and even shows that the long-term benefits likely max out at 4.5 cups.

It's important to note that a cup—as in measuring cup—is probably not the same size as your favorite coffee mug, which is typically on the order of 1.5–2 cups. Note lighter roast coffee carries more caffeine (and less mold, which caffeine kills). French presses and other non-filtered methods also have higher amounts of caffeine.



When you drink coffee is also extremely important. Take the following into account and see what works for you:
  • Meals: Because coffee exerts beneficial effects on blood sugar and insulin response, it makes sense to have it when your blood glucose levels are at their highest.

  • Sleep: Caffeine's half-life (the time it takes the body to metabolize half the amount) can be as long as 5.7 hours or more. To avoid sleep disruptions, a cutoff of about 2 p.m. is generally wise.
    If by chance you took too much too late, it may not be all bad that you had an evening coffee—dreams can be more vivid, intense, and memorable with small levels of caffeine (although sounder sleep is obviously preferable).

  • Exercise: The research on caffeine's effect on exercise described above showed the highest performance gains by taking caffeine 30–60 minutes before exercise. Note caffeine can also reduce the effects of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) after hard exercise.

  • Mental Performance: As mentioned, caffeine's most beneficial effects on memory and cognition come at lower doses (whenever taken).


Weight Loss

While caffeine's effects on weight loss are moderate, some ambitious kitchen gurus have attempted to amplify those benefits with the coffee loophole recipe. Essentially, it's a… unique mixture of coffee with other ingredients known to aid in fat loss:
  • Lemon juice

  • Cinnamon

  • Honey (optional)

Oddly enough, once you try the coffee loophole recipe, the lemon doesn't necessarily clash with the coffee (especially with honey, which helps mask some of the sour/earthy flavor conflicts). Altogether, a coffee loophole drink helps kickstart your metabolism, which is exactly what you want early in your day.


The Future of Coffee Research

As the coffee loophole recipe shows, more people than ever are eager to experiment with new ways to incorporate coffee into their health routines. More than almost any other health compound, coffee almost requires cherry-picking its benefits. While it takes some mental gymnastics to fine-tune the benefits around your goals, the effects are well worth it.

Coffee research has become notorious for raising more questions than answers. Researchers now have a major impetus to bridge the conclusions of the ground-breaking JAMDA study with the voluminous research already compiled.

Perhaps the most heavily anticipated breakthroughs will be on coffee's cognitive and neuroprotective effects—poised to restore hope, or at least lend assistance, to those watching their loved ones succumb to neurodegenerative conditions and cognitive decline.

Sports enthusiasts are also as eager as ever to find new ways of boosting performance in the most sustainable way. As research goes deeper into the benefits of coffee, it seems to highlight yet again the importance of balance and moderation of all good things.


Get Your Morning Fix With Clean, Sustainable Foods

Incorporating coffee into a healthy lifestyle has never been so easy (and delicious), and Laird Superfoods is helping to lead the charge! We've garnered a popular buzz for our nourishing blend of coffee and adaptogenic compounds that help anchor and complement the effects of coffee with a whole-body approach to health and nutrition.

Our organic, high-altitude coffee with adaptogens comes packed with other important nutrients shown to facilitate greater adaptation to a variety of stressors. Coffee with adaptogens is widely referred to as "functional coffee" for its greater support for a wider range of bodily functions, especially at peak performance.

That includes coffee with functional mushrooms, a potent combination of two of the most intriguing superfoods on the planet. Grab a bag today—and enjoy your morning fix, supercharged and guilt-free!



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