By the year 2025, approximately 380 million individuals worldwide will be affected by type 2 diabetes (1). Despite considerable research attention, the role of specific dietary and lifestyle factors remains uncertain, although obesity and physical inactivity have consistently been reported to raise the risk of diabetes mellitus. A previously published meta-analysis suggested drinking more coffee may be linked with a reduced risk, but the amount of available information has more than doubled since.
Rachel Huxley, D.Phil, of The George Institute for International Health, University of Sydney, Australia, and colleagues identified 18 studies involving 457,922 participants and assessing the association between coffee consumption and diabetes risk published between 1966 and 2009. Six studies involving 225,516 individuals also included information about decaffeinated coffee, whereas seven studies with 286,701 participants reported on tea consumption.
When the authors combined and analyzed the data, they found that each additional cup of coffee consumed in a day was associated with a 7 percent reduction in the excess risk of diabetes. Individuals who drank three to four cups per day had an approximately 25 percent lower risk than those who drank between zero and two cups per day.
In addition, in the studies that assessed decaffeinated coffee consumption, those who drank more than three to four cups per day had about a one-third lower risk of diabetes than those who drank none. Those who drank more than three to four cups of tea had a one-fifth lower risk than those who drank no tea.
That the apparent protective effect of tea and coffee consumption appears to be independent of a number of potential confounding variables raises the possibility of direct biological effects, the authors write. Because of the association between decaffeinated coffee and diabetes risk, the association is unlikely to be solely related to caffeine. Other compounds in coffee and tea including magnesium, antioxidants known as lignans or chlorogenic acids may be involved, the authors note.
If such beneficial effects were observed in interventional trials to be real, the implications for the millions of individuals who have diabetes mellitus, or who are at future risk of developing it, would be substantial, they conclude. For example, the identification of the active components of these beverages could open up new therapeutic options for the primary prevention of diabetes mellitus. The findings also pose the question of whether patients most at risk for diabetes mellitus may in the future be advised to increase their consumption of tea and coffee in addition to increasing their levels of physical activity.
Spokesperson for the European Society of Cardiology, Professor Lars Rydén (Sweden), who is a diabetes specialist had the following advice:
“This is a cautiously and carefully conducted meta-analysis which means authors have carefully conducted studies although each are too small to give an answer to the question although they indicate a positive correlation between the consumption of coffee and a decreasing occurrence of diabetes. So the principle is that if you drink coffee whether it is decaffeinated or not, you have less chance of developing diabetes. The data has been strengthened by bringing several studies together.
There are sometimes claims that coffee may do harm, that it may increase the propensity to Cardiovascular disease, but there is no evidence for this. The message is that people may drink coffee safely. Coffee from this point of view may actually be of benefit, as well as reducing the risk of getting diabetes – although the reduction is small (around 7%).”
However Prof Rydén warns that lifestyle changes far outweigh a regular coffee intake.
“Coffee helps, but other things are even more important. Those who are overweight should reduce their bodyweight by 5-10% - not too much - and include physical activity such as a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day. Then those people who are at risk of developing diabetes will reduce this risk by 40-50%.
It is interesting to consider why a beverage like coffee has a beneficial effect. It is obviously not the caffeine as decaffeinated coffee has the same efficiency as caffeinated coffee. Coffee may contain antioxidants but the studies have not measured the number of chemicals in the blood which is important.”
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Dr. Huxley is supported by a Career Development Award from the National Heart Foundation of Australia. This work was additionally supported by a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia; a Research Career Development Fellowship from the UK Wellcome Trust; and a research grant from Institut Servier, France and Assistance Publique-Hopitaux de Paris.
1) Arch Intern Med. 2009;169:2053-2063