Chalk up yet another health benefit to coffee: A new study indicates that drinking two to four cups a day may lower suicide risk -- by half!
Yes, it seems amazing, but Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that people who drank two to three cups of caffeinated coffee daily had a 45 percent lower chance of taking their own life, while those who drank more than four cups of coffee daily had a 53 percent lower risk when compared to those who drank less than one cup.
Does this really mean coffee makes us happier? Or, as the Boston Globe asks, "Do those who gravitate toward Starbucks tend to be busy social people who are less prone to depression?"
In the study, published online July 2 in The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, researchers looked at data from 208,424 adults in three large federal health studies from 1992 to 2008. Subjects were asked every four years about their food and beverage consumption, including how much coffee, both caffeinated and decaf, they drank. About 70 to 80 percent of them said they were coffee drinkers. During the study period, there were 277 deaths by suicide, researchers reported.
What they found was an association between caffeine consumption and a much lower risk of suicide -- namely that the risk of suicide for adults who drank two to four cups of caffeinated coffee per day was about half that of those who drank decaffeinated coffee or very little or no coffee.
"Unlike previous investigations, we were able to assess association of consumption of caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages, and we identify caffeine as the most likely candidate of any putative protective effect of coffee," lead researcher Michel Lucas, with Harvard's Department of Nutrition, said in a statement.
Translation: It's the caffeine -- a mild stimulant -- in the coffee that's likely helping people's moods.
Coffee also has been linked to a lower risk of oral cancer, and a 22 to 25 percent lower risk of stroke among older women. A study published in March found that older adults who drank at least one cup of coffee or two to three cups of green tea daily had up to a 20 percent lower risk of stroke.
This doesn't necessarily mean if you don't drink coffee you should start, or that you should increase the java you drink now. As the researchers said, "there is little further benefit for consumption above two to three cups" a day.
But obviously us coffee-drinkers now have yet another reason to feel pleased about the habit.
Or, as the satiric Onion newspaper put it, "This is going to make the people who say they can't live without their coffee all the more insufferable."
Photo: waferboard via flickr