May 16, 2012— -- Hey, coffee lovers, here's another reason to defend that java habit you just can't kick. A study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine found that coffee drinkers are less likely to die from several common health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, accidents and infections than non-coffee drinkers are.
Researchers from the National Cancer Institute conducted an observational study from data that included 400,000 adults ages 50 to 71. People who drank three or more cups of coffee per day had a 10 percent lower risk of death than the non-coffee drinkers.
"Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in America, but the association between coffee consumption and risk of death has been unclear," Neal Freedman, lead author of the study and an investigator in the National Cancer Institute's division of cancer epidemiology and genetics, said in a statement.
"We found coffee consumption to be associated with lower risk of death overall, and of death from a number of different causes,'' he said. "Although we cannot infer a causal relationship between coffee drinking and lower risk of death, we believe these results do provide some reassurance that coffee drinking does not adversely affect health."
And it may not be caffeine that is the protective ingredient. Those who drank caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee had similar health results, which suggests there is some other component in the coffee, not the caffeine, that plays a role in protecting one's health.
Several studies have found that coffee reduces the risk of several other medical conditions, including stroke, depression, dementia and several other cancers.
More than half of American adults drink some form of coffee each day, according to the National Coffee Association, and caffeine is the most frequently consumed stimulant in the world.
Despite the promising benefits, Dr. Cheryl Williams, a registered dietician with the Emory Heart & Vascular Center in Atlanta, said she would advise patients that coffee does indeed contain properties that may promote health, but it also has properties that can negatively affect health. Caffeine can raise blood pressure, she said, and boiled coffee lipids may increase already-high blood cholesterol.
"Overall, more research needs to be done to truly understand the compounds in coffee and their biological activity and effect on health," said Williams.
Drinking coffee is "fine," said Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
"It can be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle and may even contribute to such a lifestyle," said Ayoob. "I wouldn't want it to push out nutritious foods, but in and of itself, there is no reason to suggest that drinking coffee is negative, and it may be beneficial."
The study authors did note that coffee drinking was also associated with smoking, poor diets and alcohol consumption, but Ayoob noted that this doesn't necessarily mean coffee is bad for your health like some of the others.
"You're picking up on a long-term lifestyle, for better or worse," said Ayoob. "[But] just because coffee drinking is accompanies smoking, inactivity, etc. doesn't mean it's bad, it means coffee is hanging around some bad company."
ABC News' Dr. Veronica Sikka contributed to this report.