Most of us rely on a cup of Joe in the morning to give us an energy boost. With more than half of Americans drinking coffee every day, many wonder if the popular beverage is actually good for them. New research from Stanford University says "yes," and finds caffeine can fight age-related chronic inflammation, which may boost our longevity.

“That something many people drink — and actually like to drink — might have a direct benefit came as a surprise to us,” said Mark Davis, senior author of the study, and a professor of microbiology and immunology and the director of the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection, in a statement.

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Davis and his colleagues have shown a correlation between caffeine consumption and longevity.

They found an inflammatory mechanism present in certain older adults, but not in others. When it was highly activated, people had high blood pressure, and stiff arteries. Lab experiments confirmed caffeine blocks this inflammatory process, meaning the drug has a protective effect against advanced aging in older adults.

“It’s also well-known that caffeine intake is associated with longevity,” said David Furman, lead author of the study, and a consulting associate professor at the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection. “Many studies have shown this association. We’ve found a possible reason for why this may be so.”

The study, published in Nature Medicine, observed healthy participants ages 20 to 30, and another group older than 60 annually via surveys, blood draws, and reviews of their medical history. The researchers compared blood drawn from older versus young participants to see which genes tended to be more highly activated in older people. This allowed them to zero in on two clusters of genes whose activity was associated with the production of a potent circulating inflammatory protein called IL-1-beta. It was noted the genes within each cluster worked in coordination with one another.

Within the older adults, researchers separated them into two groups: those with high activation in one of both gene clusters; and those with low activation. Nine out of 12 adults in the "high" group had high blood pressure, compared to only one of 11 people in the "low" group. Those in the high group were more likely to have stiff arteries. The high group had higher levels of IL-1-beta, and higher levels of nucleic-acid metabolites, which are molecules that serve as building blocks for our genes, and circulate in the blood, triggering an inflammatory response.

The low activation group drank more caffeinated beverages, which led the researchers to delve deeper into its protective effect against inflammation. The researchers incubated immune system cells with the nucleic-acid metabolites that were dominant in blood from the high group, and found the metabolites boosted activity in one of the inflammatory gene clusters. This led the immune cells to release more IL-1-beta. When this was injected into mice, the substances triggered widespread inflammation, and high blood pressure. IL-1-beta tends to be elevated in people with cardiovascular disease.

Read: Drinking Coffee Lowers Liver Cancer Risk In People Who Drink 3 Alcoholic Beverages A Day

It’s not clear why some people have high activation of inflammatory gene clusters, while others don't. The researchers suspect it's partly genetic. For example, those in the low group were eight times as likely as those in the high group to report having one relative who had lived to age 90 or older.

A similar 2015 study found drinking coffee may lower inflammation, and even reduce diabetes risk, which lessens the risk of heart disease. Researchers noted habitual coffee drinkers — more than 1.5 cups per day — were about half as likely to develop diabetes compared to non-coffee drinkers, even after accounting for smoking, high blood pressure, family history of diabetes and intake of other caffeinated beverages. Higher coffee consumption was associated with lower amyloid levels, an inflammatory marker in the blood.

These studies highlight the effect of coffee consumption on various inflammatory markers. So, a cup of coffee (or a few) a day, may keep inflammation at bay.

Source: Furman D, Chang J, Lartigue L et al. Expression of specific inflammasome gene modules stratifies older individuals into two extreme clinical and immunological states. Nature Medicine. 2017.

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