coffee USEI love the science section published each Tuesday in the New York Times.

And I hate it, too.

A delicious story emerged this week about folks who live on the island of Ikaria, off the mainland of Greece.

Ikarians live longer than most, and scientists wanted to discover if the thick Greek coffee they drink helps stave off heart disease.

The squib in the New York Times reports that coffee may make the blood flow better.

But “coffee is only one factor,” the story says.

Ikarians take naps, eat fruits and vegetables, socialize, walk, and garden.

And their lives are less stressful, according to the story.

Great news, I thought, and wrote a blog immediately about how stress makes us feel nibbled to death by ducks.

I wanted to know more so I might replicate the peaceful life on Ikaria, so I searched the internet and found the scientific study reported in the March 18 issue of Vascular Medicine.

Alas, there is no mention of naps, walks and gardening.

I thought the study would compare all these factors—coffee, sleep, strolling, etc.—but the research stopped at coffee.

From the Times story—I will paste in a link so you can read for yourself—I thought the study was more complex.

Didn’t the article say that, when looking at long life, coffee is only one factor?

Guess what?

Lifestyle wasn’t discussed in the study. Just coffee.

Here’s the synopsis: Researchers recruited 142 islanders from the ages of 66 to 91 and broke them into three groups according to daily coffee consumption: low (57 people), moderate (67 people) and high (18 people).

They tested the influence of coffee drinking on blood flow.

Note that blood flow was measured by an ultrasound of the “flow-mediated dilation” or FMD. This shows how well the blood flows: the more blood flow, the greater the dilation. That’s good.

The researchers found a significant difference in folks who consumed the most coffee: they had better blood flow than the other coffee-drinking groups, after controlling for the effects of age, gender, smoking, heart disease, diabetes, etc.

But the researchers caution about making a causal leap—something the New York Times article failed to do.

For one thing, the number of folks studied is quite low, especially the group that drank the most coffee.

There were only about 18 Ikarians in this group, and we just can’t make inferences from such a small group. That’s bad science.

Still, the Times ran a slug that says, Longevity with the headline: The Secret May Be in the Coffee.

And the Times is not alone.

Fox News announced, “Greek coffee may be the key to living a longer life,” while Business Line says, “A daily cup of boiled Greek coffee may hold the secret to long life and good health.”

I feel duped.

Here’s the link:


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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