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Not just an energy boost

Bobbie Jo Akenson pours a cup of coffee at Alexandria's Great Cravings. (Echo Press photo by Caroline Roers)

Over the past 500 years, coffee has become a necessity in American culture. From cappuccinos to espressos, about 64 percent of American adults drink coffee on a daily basis, with the average drinker consuming 3.2 cups each day, according to the National Coffee Association.

Coffee is a regular part of morning routines for many people, including those in Alexandria.

Caribou Coffee employee, Abby Johnson, estimated that "about 50 percent of our customers are regulars. They drink anywhere from one to six or eight cups of coffee - some can sit for hours and talk and just keep drinking coffee."

Similarly, about 30 percent of Great Cravings customers are regulars who drink anywhere from one to five cups a day - not to mention the home brewed coffee lovers.

While controversy over the effects of coffee has circulated over the years, a new study recently came out that supports the idea that coffee makes people live longer.

Beginning in 1993, researchers from the National Cancer Institution followed more than 400,000 healthy adults between the ages of 50 and 71 for more than 13 years to study the effect of coffee in regards to life span.

When the numbers were first calculated, coffee seemed to have a negative effect on a person's life span; however, researchers also found that people who drink coffee are more likely to smoke, drink more alcohol, eat more red meat and exercise less. Once these things were taken out of account, the results were startling: each cup of coffee increases the chances of living longer.

The findings showed that, compared with men who didn't drink any coffee, those who drank just one cup per day had a 6 percent lower risk of death during the course of the study, those who had four to five cups had a 12 percent lower risk, and men who drank six cups or more had a 10 percent lower risk of death.

Women who drank one cup per day had a 5 percent lower risk of dying during the study compared with women who drank none. Those who consumed four or five cups were 16 percent less likely to die, and those who drank six or more cups had a 15 percent lower mortality rate.

Because coffee contains more than 1,000 components, researchers are unsure exactly which component makes people live longer. Caffeine, however, did not play a role in the results because the same statistics were produced from people who drank decaf as those who drank caffeinated.

Though the study does not give coffee all the credit for making people live longer, it does show that coffee is not as bad as people thought it was.

"Coffee is actually really good for you," Johnson noted. "People think coffee is bad to drink, but coffee doesn't actually have any sugar in it - the sugar comes from the chocolates and the whipped cream that are added to it."

Black coffee, which contains no sugar, can also help increase metabolism and thus, help people lose weight.

"Everyone is so health conscious these days. So people have recently started drinking more black coffee because it increases metabolism and is better for you," said Great Cravings manager Bobbi Jo Akenson.

Along with increasing life span and reducing weight, coffee is now shown to prevent many diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson's and dementia. Drinking coffee regularly can also lessen the risk of the onset of diabetes, reduce the chances of heart disease and stroke, and reduce the progression of liver cancer.

Though coffee has been proven to have numerous upsides, there are still many negative effects, as well.

Coffee contains thousands of antioxidants and tiny substances that are linked to cancer. There is also evidence that says coffee can raise bad cholesterol and blood pressure, at least short-term, and those can raise the risk of heart disease.

Whether good or bad, coffee has become a thriving part of American culture, and for many people, their morning routines.

"I definitely think there are more upsides to drinking coffee than downsides," Akenson noted. "People come in here with friends, they laugh and talk and just have a good time. So I guess I think coffee makes people happier - which makes people live longer."