Numerous studies over the past few few years have found that drinking coffee can provide some health benefits.  A new umbrella review, just published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), concludes that drinking three to four cups of coffee a day is "more likely to benefit health than to harm it" for a range of health outcomes.

An umbrella review analyzes previous studies and synthesizes the data to summarize research on a given topic.  In this case Dr. Robin Poole, Specialist Registrar in Public Health at the University of Southampton, along with collaborators from the University of Edinburgh, reviewed 201 studies from various countries and settings.

According to Science Daily, the umbrella review concludes that: "Drinking coffee was consistently associated with a lower risk of death from all causes and from heart disease, with the largest reduction in relative risk of death at three cups a day, compared with non-coffee drinkers."

Drinking three cups of coffee per day was found to lower the risk of several cancers including prostate and liver cancer.  It can also lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and gout.  Conditions of the liver saw the most benefit from coffee consumption, especially cirrhosis of the liver.

There are a couple of caveats.  Several of the studies did not take into account some of the test subjects' accompanying habits that may negate the positive effects of coffee-drinking.  For example, some studies took smoking into account; others did not.  So if you like to smoke a couple of cigarettes with your coffee, those coffee benefits may be nullified. Or if you like to drown your coffee in sugar, cream, and/or caramel, that may offset the good that just plain old black coffee can do for you.  In addition, drinking three cups of coffee a day is not recommended for women who are pregnant or who are at high risk of bone fracture.

Now this doesn't mean you should start drinking more coffee in an effort to better your health, or that doctors will soon be prescribing coffee as a health benefit.  However, the consensus in the medical community right now is that moderate coffee consumption is safe and can be incorporated as part of a healthy diet.