Regular coffee and tea consumption in middle age appears to significantly reduce the risk of physical frailty later in life. The effect is primarily attributed to the caffeine it contains.
A research team led by Prof. Woon Puay Koh from the National University of Singapore examined the connection between the consumption of caffeinated drinks in midlife and the risk of physical frailty later in life and published the results in the “Journal of the American Medical Directors Association”.
Effects on cardiovascular system
For a long time, coffee in particular was considered unhealthy, but various recent studies have pointed to clear health benefits. For example, research from last year showed that two to three cups of caffeinated coffee per day have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and increase life expectancy.
Regular tea consumption is also said to have positive effects on the cardiovascular system and a study by researchers at Edith Cowan University (ECU) and the University of Western Australia recently confirmed that black tea protects against hardening of the arteries.
Does health benefit in old age?
Professor Koh Woon Puay’s team has now analyzed how the consumption of caffeinated drinks influences health in old age using data from over 12,000 participants in the Singapore Chinese Health Study. The participants were aged 45 to 74 years and data were available over a follow-up period of 20 years.
The participants were first surveyed between 1993 and 1998, with an average age of 53 years. During these basic interviews, the participants were also asked about their habits when consuming caffeinated drinks (such as coffee, tea and soft drinks) and foods (such as chocolate), the researchers report.
The experts also recorded information on socio-demographic characteristics, medical history, dietary habits, physical activities, sleep duration as well as height and weight. A second survey followed between 2006 and 2010, and a third from 2014 to 2017.
In the accompanying physical examinations, the researchers also determined handgrip strength, mobility and the risk of falling (using the “Timed Up and Go Test”; TUG).
How was frailty defined?
According to the research team, participants were classified as “physically frail” if at least two of the following four factors occurred:
- Weight loss (more than 10% weight loss between the second and third follow-up visits),
- confirmed exhaustion (in the interviews),
- Slowness (slowest gender quintile in TUG)
- and weakness (weakest gender quintile in handgrip strength).
Caffeine intake through tea and coffee
The main sources of caffeine in this cohort were coffee and tea, which accounted for 84 percent and 12 percent of total caffeine intake, respectively, the researchers report.
Overall, 68.5 percent of participants drank coffee daily, with 52.9 percent of them drinking one cup per day, 42.2 percent drinking two to three cups per day and the remaining 4.9 percent drinking four or more cups per day, according to the study Experts continue.
Four categories were formed among the participants for both coffee consumption and tea consumption. For coffee these were: no daily consumption, one cup per day, two to three cups per day and four or more cups per day.
According to the researchers, tea consumption was differentiated between never, at least once a month, at least once a week and daily tea drinking.
Lower risk of physical frailty
Subsequent data analysis showed that consumption of coffee, black or green tea in midlife was independently associated with a significantly lower likelihood of physical frailty in later life, the team reports.
According to the experts, participants who drank four or more cups of coffee per day had a significantly lower likelihood of physical frailty in old age compared to participants who did not drink coffee daily.
Likewise, those who consumed black or green tea daily were significantly less likely to develop physical frailty than those who did not drink tea.
Caffeine the deciding factor?
When only caffeine intake was considered in relation to the likelihood of physical frailty in older age, it was shown that higher intake can be associated with a lower risk of physical frailty, regardless of the source of the caffeine.
In addition to caffeine, coffee and tea also contain plenty of bioactive polyphenols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and are associated with a lower risk of diseases, which in turn increase frailty, the researchers report.
Further studies required
“Our studies show that consumption of these caffeinated drinks in midlife could be associated with a lower likelihood of physical frailty later in life,” summarizes study leader Prof. Woon Puay Koh.
However, further studies are now needed to confirm these connections and to check whether the effects on physical frailty are mediated by caffeine or other chemical compounds. (fp)