A joint study conducted at the Universities of Oslo and Minnesota looked at the relationship between coffee drinking and disease-specific mortality in a population of 27,312 women, aged between 55 and 69 years at baseline, who did not already suffer from cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, colitis and liver cirrhosis.
The women were followed over a 15-year period, during which 4265 died.
The researchers saw a correlation between the number of cups of coffee the women reported drinking each day and the hazard ratio of death attributed to cardiovascular disease: 0.76 (95% CI: 0.64, 0.91) for one to three cups; 0.81 (95% CI: 0.66, 0.99) for four to five cups; and 0.87 (95% CI: 0.69, 1.09) for six or more cups.
The hazard ratio for death from other inflammatory diseases was not linear but still indicated a potential association: 0.72 (95% CI: 0.55, 0.93) for one to three cups; 0.67 (95% CI: 0.50, 0.90) for four to five, and 0.68 (95% CI: 0.49, 0.94) for sox or more.
The researchers said that the affect may be down to the anti-inflammatory action of antioxidants derived from the coffee.
"Consumption of coffee, a major source of dietary antioxidants, may inhibit inflammation and thereby reduce the risk of cardiovascular and other inflammatory diseases in postmenopausal women," they wrote in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (83, 5:1039-46, 2006).
Women's risk of cardiovascular disease is often overshadowed in public consciousness by that of men, since there are more younger male sufferers than women. But statistics from the British Health Foundation show that after the age of 65, women are just as susceptible than men - if not more so.
Overall 51,495 women died of coronary heart disease in the UK in 2003, compared to 62,400 men. Just 685 of the women were in the 45 to 54 age group, but this number leapt to 2,280 in the 55 to 64s, and again to 7,293 in the 65 to 74s.
The new findings build on research conducted at the University of Glasgow and presented in 2003, which demonstrated the high bioavailability of antioxidants from coffee. Professor Crozier investigated the absorption of chlorogenic acid in the ileum, part of the small intestine, and found that more than 75 per cent of the antioxidant had been absorbed into the bloodstream before reaching the ileum.
This led him to say that coffee could be a supplementary source of antioxidants to fruit an vegetables.
However relationship between caffeine from coffee and heart health is hotly debated. Greek researchers recently proposed that caffeine increased aortic stiffness and, subsequently, the risk of heart disease (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005, Vol. 81, pp. 1307-1312).
But a prospective cohort study, published on-line in the journal Circulation (doi:10.1161/ circulationaha.105.598664), reports that both coffee and caffeine consumption may not be linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
Using data from the 44,005 men of the Health Professionals Follow-up study, started in 1986, and the 84,488 women in the Nurses' Health Study, started in 1976, to investigate the link between coffee consumption and the risk of CHD, Harvard researchers found that people who drank between four and five cups of coffee per day had the same risk of CHD as those who drank less one cup of coffee per month.