Objectives To evaluate the existing evidence for associations between coffee consumption and multiple health outcomes.
Design Umbrella review of the evidence across meta-analyses of observational and interventional studies of coffee consumption and any health outcome.
Data sources PubMed, Embase, CINAHL, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, and screening of references.
Eligibility criteria for selecting studies Meta-analyses of both observational and interventional studies that examined the associations between coffee consumption and any health outcome in any adult population in all countries and all settings. Studies of genetic polymorphisms for coffee metabolism were excluded.
Results The umbrella review identified 201 meta-analyses of observational research with 67 unique health outcomes and 17 meta-analyses of interventional research with nine unique outcomes. Coffee consumption was more often associated with benefit than harm for a range of health outcomes across exposures including high versus low, any versus none, and one extra cup a day. There was evidence of a non-linear association between consumption and some outcomes, with summary estimates indicating largest relative risk reduction at intakes of three to four cups a day versus none, including all cause mortality (relative risk 0.83, 95% confidence interval 0.83 to 0.88), cardiovascular mortality (0.81, 0.72 to 0.90), and cardiovascular disease (0.85, 0.80 to 0.90). High versus low consumption was associated with an 18% lower risk of incident cancer (0.82, 0.74 to 0.89). Consumption was also associated with a lower risk of several specific cancers and neurological, metabolic, and liver conditions. Harmful associations were largely nullified by adequate adjustment for smoking, except in pregnancy, where high versus low/no consumption was associated with low birth weight (odds ratio 1.31, 95% confidence interval 1.03 to 1.67), preterm birth in the first (1.22, 1.00 to 1.49) and second (1.12, 1.02 to 1.22) trimester, and pregnancy loss (1.46, 1.06 to 1.99). There was also an association between coffee drinking and risk of fracture in women but not in men.
Conclusion Coffee consumption seems generally safe within usual levels of intake, with summary estimates indicating largest risk reduction for various health outcomes at three to four cups a day, and more likely to benefit health than harm. Robust randomised controlled trials are needed to understand whether the observed associations are causal. Importantly, outside of pregnancy, existing evidence suggests that coffee could be tested as an intervention without significant risk of causing harm. Women at increased risk of fracture should possibly be excluded.