Even with a little sugar, coffee may be associated to a lower risk of death.

Contrary to popular perception, quitting coffee will not improve your health. It’s possible that the opposite is true: years of research indicate that drinking coffee is associated with a lower risk of death.

The Annals of Internal Medicine released the most recent addition to that body of work on Monday. Over the course of seven years, the study looked at about 120,000 adults in the United Kingdom who drank unsweetened or sugar-sweetened coffee on a regular basis. Even if they added a teaspoon of real sugar — not artificial sweetener — to each cup, those who drank 1.5 to 3.5 cups a day had a decreased risk of dying during those seven years than non-coffee drinkers, according to the research.

The results showed that persons who drank unsweetened coffee were 16 percent to 21% less likely to die during the research period than those who did not drink any coffee at all.

However, because the researchers did not examine cause, they were unable to determine if coffee was directly responsible for the outcome.

“Biologically, coffee may confer some direct health benefits,” said Dr. Christina Wee, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. Wee edited the report and prepared an editorial summarizing the findings.

“We can’t say for sure that it’s the coffee drinking per se that contributes to the lower mortality risk,” she stated.

It’s possible that those who consume coffee on a regular basis are wealthier and hence more likely to have better health care or more time for leisure or fitness than non-coffee drinkers, which could lessen their mortality risk.

The current study’s participants were on average 56 years old, and they were recruited between 2006 and 2010. Diet, smoking, socioeconomic position, pre-existing health problems, and exposure to air pollution were all taken into account by the researchers.

People who drank sugar-sweetened coffee were 29 percent to 31 percent less likely to die than non-coffee users, according to the findings – a slightly higher risk reduction than people who drank unsweetened coffee, though within the same range.

The study found no conclusive results for individuals who drank coffee with artificial sweeteners or who added milk or cream to their coffee.

Read More: How eating legumes, nuts, and whole grains is the way to longer and healthy life

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