The two cups were associated with a 22 per cent drop in mortality – rising to 30 per cent among older patients in the study. And those drinking four cups had a 64 per cent lower death risk, compared with those who never or rarely consumed coffee.

The study was observational – so could not prove that plentiful amounts of coffee were the cause of the improved mortality. But it echoes findings from US research, which suggested that three cups a day could significantly extend life.

Coffee contains a number of compounds, including caffeine, diterpenes and antioxidants, and scientists believe some of these have a protective impact on the body. Some studies have found similar benefits among those drinking decaffeinated versions – leading scientists to conclude that the antioxidant plant compounds in coffee may provide the most benefit.

The Spanish research, presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Barcelona, involved 19,986 people who were tracked for an average of 10 years. Researchers from Hospital de Navarra then examined death rates, with 337 participants – around 1 in 60 – dying during the period. Those drinking coffee regularly had the lowest death rates, with the strongest links found among older participants.

Dr Adela Navarro, lead author, said she believed the antioxidants in coffee, which come in the form of polyphenols, caused the effect, adding: “I would advise drinking plenty of coffee. It could be good for your heart. I think it’s a good idea to have about four cups a day. I think it’s the polyphenols, they have an anti-inflammatory effect.”

However, Prof Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This study suggests there may be an association between drinking coffee and living longer, but it doesn’t prove a causal link or explain how coffee might be having this effect.

“Coffee drinkers should not rest on their laurels. The best way to minimize your risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death is to concentrate on an overall healthy lifestyle – eat a balanced diet, stay active and don’t smoke – rather than lining up the lattes.”

~ The Telegraph