The findings of a recent study suggest that drinking two to three cups of coffee a day is associated with the greatest benefits for the heart. The research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 71st Annual Scientific Session says these trends held true for both people with and without cardiovascular disease.
Researchers said the analyzes — the largest to look at coffee’s possible role in heart disease and death — offer reassurance that coffee is not linked to new or worsening heart disease and may even be heart protective. “Because coffee can speed up the heart rate, some people worry that drinking it could cause or worsen certain heart problems. This is where general medical advice can come from to stop drinking coffee. But our data suggests that daily coffee intake should not be reduced. discouraged, but rather should be included as part of a healthy diet for people with and without heart disease,” says Peter M. Kistler, MD, professor and chief of arrhythmia research at the Alfred Hospital and Baker Heart Institute in Melbourne, Australia, and the study’s senior author.
“We found that drinking coffee either had a neutral effect — meaning it did no harm — or was associated with heart health benefits.”
Kistler and his team used data from the UK BioBank, a large-scale prospective database containing health information from more than half a million people who were followed for at least 10 years. Researchers looked at different levels of coffee consumption, ranging from a maximum of one cup to more than six cups a day and its relationship with heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias); cardiovascular disease, including coronary artery disease, heart failure, and stroke; and total and heart-related deaths among people with and without cardiovascular disease.
Patients were grouped by how much coffee they drank each day: 0, 1, 2-3, 4-5 and 5 cups/day. Drinking coffee was assessed on the basis of questionnaires completed upon entry into the register. Overall, they found no effect or, in many cases, significant reductions in cardiovascular risk after controlling for exercise, alcohol, smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure that could also play a role in heart health and longevity.
For the first study, researchers examined data from 382,535 individuals with no known heart disease to see whether coffee drinking played a role in the development of heart disease or stroke over the 10-year follow-up. The mean age of the participants was 57 years and a half were women. Overall, drinking two to three cups of coffee a day was associated with the greatest benefit, translating to a 10 to 15% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, heart failure, a heart rhythm problem, or death for any reason. The risk of stroke or heart-related death was lowest in people who drank one cup of coffee a day.
Researchers did observe a U-shaped relationship between coffee intake and new heart rhythm problems. The maximum benefit was seen in people who drank two to three cups of coffee a day and less in those who drank more or less.
The second study included 34,279 individuals who had some form of cardiovascular disease at baseline. Coffee intake of two to three cups a day was associated with a lower risk of death compared to not drinking coffee. Importantly, consuming any amount of coffee was not associated with a higher risk of heart rhythm problems, including atrial fibrillation (AFib) or atrial flutter, which Kistler says is often what clinicians worry about. Of the 24,111 people included in the analysis who had an arrhythmia at baseline, drinking coffee was associated with a lower risk of death.
For example, people with AFib who drank one cup of coffee a day were nearly 20 percent less likely to die than non-coffee drinkers. Clinicians generally have some concern that people with known cardiovascular disease or arrhythmias will continue to drink coffee, so they often take the cautious side and advise stopping drinking altogether for fear it could trigger dangerous heart rhythms. said Kistler. †
“But our study shows that regular coffee intake is safe and could be part of a healthy diet for people with heart disease.” While two to three cups of coffee a day seemed most beneficial overall, Kistler said people shouldn’t. increasing their coffee intake, especially if it makes them feel anxious or uncomfortable. “There are a whole host of mechanisms through which coffee can reduce mortality and have these beneficial effects on cardiovascular disease,” he said.
“Coffee drinkers need to be reassured that they can continue to enjoy coffee even if they have a heart condition. Coffee is the most common cognitive enhancer – it wakes you up, sharpens you mentally and is a very important part of many people’s daily lives.”
So how can coffee beans benefit the heart? People often equate coffee with caffeine, but coffee beans actually contain more than 100 biologically active compounds. These substances may help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, boost metabolism, inhibit fat absorption by the gut and block receptors known to be involved in abnormal heart rhythms, Kistler said. †
In a third study, researchers looked at whether there were differences in the relationship between coffee and cardiovascular disease, depending on whether someone drank instant or ground coffee or decaf or decaf. They again found that two to three cups a day were associated with the lowest risk of arrhythmias, blockages in the heart arteries, stroke or heart failure, regardless of whether they had ground or instant coffee. Lower death rates were observed in all coffees.
Decaffeinated coffee had no beneficial effects against incident arrhythmia, but did reduce cardiovascular disease, with the exception of heart failure. Kistler said the findings suggest that caffeinated coffee is preferred across the board, and that there are no cardiovascular benefits from choosing decaffeinated coffees with too much caffeine. There are several important limitations to these studies.
Researchers were unable to control for dietary factors that may play a role in cardiovascular disease, nor could they correct for consumed creamers, milk or sugar. The participants were predominantly white, so additional studies are needed to determine whether these findings hold for other populations. Finally, coffee intake was based on self-reporting via a questionnaire completed at study entry. This should be taken into account when interpreting the study results, although Kistler noted that research suggests people’s dietary habits don’t change much in adulthood or over time. Kistler said the results need to be validated in randomized trials.
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