Will New Study Linking Coffee to Shorter Lifespans Hurt the Industry?

My grandmother used to say everything in moderation was OK. She enjoyed her coffee and like many in her generation brewed it daily, not only in the morning but just about with every meal. She lived just a couple years shy of her 100th birthday. According to a recent study by Tel Aviv University, she may have defied the odds.

The study, published in PLOS Genetics, suggests that drinking coffee may shorten one's lifespan while consuming beer could extend it. The tests have been performed on yeast that exhibits similar genetic characteristics to people, and results show that caffeine and alcohol have opposite effects on our DNA -- shortening and lengthening the telomeres (endpoints, or tips, on chromosomes), respectively. Telomere length has been implicated in aging and cancer, according to the study.

"For the first time we've identified a few environmental factors that alter telomere length, and we've shown how they do it," said Tel Aviv University Professor Martin Kupiec in a report. "What we learned may one day contribute to the prevention and treatment of human diseases."

The results are preliminary and seem to point to a mere correlation between these findings. The next step would appear to be evidence of a casual relationship between the length of the telomere with aging and cancer. Researchers plan on pursuing this possibility further, and if it holds true, one has to wonder what the future holds for coffee drinkers and the industry alike.  

Coffee's fate?
When coffee industry participants take a glimpse of the carbonated soft drink market, do they see their future? 

The carbonated soft drink market is already fighting the health battle and, based on the latest sales figures, has been losing. That fight only intensified when fears surrounding the potential dangers of artificial sweeteners used in diet sodas -- mainly aspartame -- surfaced. 

Consumers are more health-conscious these days anyway, and even sales of non-diet sodas have been falling ... just not to the extent of their diet counterparts.

2012 Soda Sales
Coke down 1% 
Diet Coke down 3%
Pepsi down 3.4%
Diet Pepsi down 6.2%

*Source: Beverage Digest/USA Today

But the carbonated soft drink market is resilient, and Coca-Cola  (NYSE: KO  ) and PepsiCo  (NYSE: PEP  ) are known to be developing natural sweeteners for their diet products. You can expect that the coffee industry would similarly do whatever it can to counter the bad news. 

Lost opportunity?
U.S. coffee sales are projected to reach $11.7 billion this year, a stark 11%-plus increase compared to 2012, according to Mintel Group, cited in MarketWatch.  And while world coffee production is expected to decline by 4.4 million bags to 146 million bags in the 2013/2014 period, mainly due to the farming cycle in Brazil, consumption is on the rise, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.     

The coffee industry hasn't always been the force that it is today, before you could find multiple coffee houses of the same name on various corners at the same intersection. Even still, coffee consumption today pales in comparison to what it was soon after the second World War. Indeed, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, coffee consumption among Americans is half of what it was in 1946.  

That suggests there remains an immense opportunity, both for coffee houses and in-home brewing systems, in the U.S. ... that is if scientific research doesn't throw a wrench into the market. 

The beer industry, meanwhile, has received a boost by the rise in craft beer sales. Once word gets out that drinking beer has health benefits, sales could go through the roof.  Already the U.S. beer market is worth about $99 billion as of 2012, which represented a 1% year-over-year increase. The craft brewing industry in 2012 grew at a more robust pace of 15% and 17% based on volume and retail sales, respectively, according to the Brewers Association.  

Conclusion
The latest study should certainly be disconcerting to coffee companies and consumers alike, for different reasons. We've heard the worst about artificial sweeteners and seen what they can do to a seemingly impermeable industry like the carbonated soft-drink market. Whether or not coffee might share a similar fate remains unclear. 

For now, though, as the research process progresses, study participants suggest you take it all in stride. "Try to relax and drink a little coffee and a little beer," said Professor Kupiec.

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  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 10:54 PM, greenknight32 wrote:

    It's one study, performed on yeast, with nothing to indicate it has any application to humans. The short answer is - no.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 11:16 PM, kankemike wrote:

    I drink both, daily. Seems to me like they cancel each other out. I'm shooting for 75. My football career is what will do me in, not my coffee.

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