Coffee: The antioxidant-filled beverage is adding another benefit to its ever-growing roster.

A new study published in the journal Diabetologia has revealed that increasing your daily consumption of coffee may help protect against diabetes.  According to the researchers, individuals who increased their daily coffee intake by more than one cup over a four-year period had an 11 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The findings further strengthen previous research linking coffee consumption with a reduced diabetes risk.

“The link between coffee consumption and type 2 diabetes is pretty well established,” lead author Shilpa Bhupathiraju, research fellow in the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, told FoxNews.com.  “What we don’t know is what happens when people change their consumption.  That’s never been studied, but that reflects people changing their diet in real life.”

For their research, Bhupathiraju and her team utilized data from three large cohorts: 48,464 women in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital-based Nurses’ Health Study (1986 – 2006); 47,510 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II (1991 – 2007); and 27,759 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986 – 2007).  For all the groups, diet was assessed every four years, while medical and lifestyle changes were reported every two years.  Over the study periods, 7,269 people developed type 2 diabetes.

The researchers found that changing coffee consumption – either increasing it or lowering it – had an impact on the risk for diabetes.

“Compared to people who made no changes to coffee consumption habits over a four-year period, those who increased coffee by more than a cup each day had an 11 percent lower risk of type 2 diabetes,” Bhupathiraju said. “Those who decreased coffee consumption by more than cup had a 17 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes.”

Additionally, the researchers examined the risks and benefits associated with drinking decaffeinated coffee and certain types of tea – in order to better determine if caffeine played an important role. Overall, they didn’t see any association between diabetes risk and these types of beverages, but Bhupathiraju explained that few people in the study made changes to their decaf or tea consumption, making the numbers too low to analyze.

As for why caffeinated coffee may have this protective health effect, Bhupathiraju said the morning drink holds a number of beneficial compounds, which may play important roles in both metabolism and cardiovascular health.

“Coffee has a lot of bioactive compounds and phenolic compounds, such as chlorogenic acid.  Chlorogenic acid improves glucose metabolism in animal models that have been studied,” she said.  Coffee also has other compounds like lignans, and it’s also a source of magnesium, which is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.  So the biology is definitely there,” she said.

However, coffee isn’t without its critics.  Although recent research has pointed to many of the drink’s health benefits, other studies have also found some downsides associated with the beverage – with one study linking heavy coffee consumption with a higher risk of early death.

Bhupathiraju said coffee isn’t a miracle “drug” by any means, and it’s important not to drink too much of it.

“With respect to chronic disease, there’s been consistent evidence that, up to six cups a day, it’s associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.  The evidence is pretty solid,” Bhupathiraju said.  “For cardiovascular disease, you see a U-shaped association.  So there’s no association at the lower end or higher end, but you see a protective effect in the middle.  So three cups a day, you see a lower risk.”

And of course, the best way of reducing your risk of diabetes is through proper nutrition and exercise, she said.

“It’s so important to maintain a healthy body weight and follow a healthy lifestyle,” Bhupathiraju said.   “In this context, moderate coffee consumption is associated with lower chronic disease.”