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No, drinking too much coffee is probably not what's killing you
It's the "everything else" you should be worried about
Have at it, buddy.
Have at it, buddy. Thinkstock
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ere's your scary headline of the day, courtesy of our pals at The Daily Beast: "Heavy coffee drinking may kill you."

The story in question links to a pretty down-the-middle U.S. News report about a large study conducted at the John Oschner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans. Researchers followed 44,000 adults between the ages of 20 and 87 for an average of about 16 years. Their data was collected from 1971 to about the end of the century.

The findings: People under 55 (but mostly men) who drank 28 cups of coffee a week — which works out to about four or more cups a day — were more likely to die an early death than their peers. Their chance of dying early was 50 percent higher than people who didn't guzzle ungodly amounts of java, and 32 percent of those deaths were linked to heart disease.

"Small amounts of coffee, up to 28 cups a week, seem to be safe," says study co-author Dr. Carl Lavie. "But there's a reason to try to keep your intake at below four 8-ounce cups per day, particularly for younger people."

The study had more than a few major limitations. For one thing, researchers noted that people who drank the most coffee were more likely to smoke cigarettes, and had lower fitness levels than their peers, as measured by a treadmill test. Those are all potentially confounding variables. Could it be, perhaps, that people who required this much caffeine to get through their days were already slowly killing themselves in other ways? Is it possible that a daily Big Gulp's worth of coffee was just another ingredient in an otherwise sleep deprived, sedentary, and largely unhealthy lifestyle?

Other recent studies have shown coffee, especially in moderate amounts, to boast all sorts of magical health properties, after all. We've already outlined most of them here at The Week, but to jog your memory: Coffee — especially when not doused with heaps of sugar and cream — can help fight depression, is good for your liver, can help you cut weight, lower your risk of diabetes, lower your risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and even help ward off skin cancer.

Then there's the fact that heart disease rates have been declining steadily since the post-war generation started getting wise about its health (cigarettes can kill you, duh!). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for instance, reports that age-adjusted deaths from cardiovascular diseases plummeted 60 percent from the middle of the 20th century to the end of it. This study concluded in 2002.

We're smart people. We know that more than a moderate amount of just about anything probably isn't the greatest thing in the world for our physical and mental health. A cursory Google search of "too much * can kill you," for example, reveals a laundry list of such deadly terrors endemic to the 21st century, like:

- Water
- Bananas
- Sitting
- Tylenol
- Spicy peppers
- Television
- Etc.

So... drinking too much coffee probably isn't what's killing you. And if you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of requiring four cups or more just to drag your feet through an otherwise listless existence, well, you probably have other problems, too.

Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for TheWeek.com. Sometimes he writes about other stuff. His work has also appeared in TIME, Men's JournalEsquire, and The Atlantic.

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