Ahh, that first cup of morning coffee or that 3 pm pick-me-up that helps reenergize you for the remainder of the day. Naturally, people look forward to it. In fact, 154 million people consume coffee daily – over 517 million cups of coffee. So whether you’re a three-cup-a-day coffee drinker or just thinking about starting a coffee habit, consider a few factors.
In a recent observational study, researchers uncovered how coffee— and the quantity and type – contribute to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart rhythm problems such as arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
Sushant Khaire, MD, FACC, a cardiologist and interventional cardiology specialist with Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, weighs in on these research findings and helps you make sense of the data and what it might mean for you.
How does coffee impact heart disease risk?
This observational study gives several insights into how coffee can help reduce heart disease risk, says Dr. Khaire. The findings link drinking 2-3 cups of instant or ground coffee daily to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and death. And caffeinated coffee significantly reduces the risk of arrhythmia. However, decaffeinated coffee did not show similar benefits to heart rhythm problems.
It’s important to understand that not every cup of coffee is the same. Drinking two to three 8 oz cups of coffee compared to two to three 16 oz cups makes a difference. And black coffee and a caramel macchiato with extra whipped cream are very different. Consuming too much sugar creates health risks that outweigh any benefits. For instance, it can increase inflammation in the body, blood pressure, weight gain, fatty liver disease risk and diabetes risk.
Another finding within the study showed a difference in consuming filtered coffee versus non-filtered coffee. Coffee contains a substance that can increase blood cholesterol. Using filtered coffee eliminates that chemical that increases bad cholesterol, so drinking filtered coffee is better than drinking unfiltered coffee. Remember, filtered coffee is brewed using a paper filter, and unfiltered coffee is coffee where the grounds go directly into the water or is brewed using a metal filter which allows chemicals to pass through it.
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How does caffeine affect the heart?
For years, many believed the caffeine in coffee led to a racing heart. That’s because coffee is a stimulant. The caffeine in coffee releases the hormones noradrenaline and norepinephrine, which increase your heart rate and blood pressure.
The observational findings indicate that people with and without heart disease should include drinking coffee as part of a healthy diet. The study found coffee drinking had either a neutral effect (did not harm) or was associated with benefits to heart health – as long as people drank coffee in moderation.
Dr. Khaire says there are 100 biologically active compounds in coffee beans that offer significant health benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They can also improve insulin sensitivity which can benefit people with diabetes by increasing metabolism and decreasing fat absorption from the gut.
But remember that drinking too much coffee can cause insomnia, jitters and palpitations – all of which can lead to future health problems.
What do the findings mean for non-coffee drinkers?
The study didn’t show that you should start drinking coffee if you have heart disease. Instead, if you are already a coffee drinker, you should feel reassured that it is not only safe in moderation but somewhat protective. That’s key, says Dr. Khaire. “Moderation is important when drinking coffee. And if you’re not previously a coffee drinker and you start, be mindful of palpitations, jitters, nervousness or other discomforts. It’s important not to push it.” Instead, talk with your primary care provider or cardiologist before you start drinking two to three cups of coffee daily.
What are the risk factors for heart disease and stroke?
Coffee in moderation can’t protect you from all the risks of heart disease. “When we talk about heart disease risk, we mean everything from coronary artery disease, heart failure, aortic disease, peripheral arterial disease and even stroke,” says Dr. Khaire. And coffee alone can’t eliminate those conditions.
Rather, Dr. Khaire recommends doing what you can to minimize all your risks for heart disease and consider adding coffee to your healthy habits. Remember, several factors can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. They include:
- High blood pressure
- High low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
- Lack of exercise
- Smoking and secondhand smoke
At Methodist, we’re committed to helping our patients develop healthy habits to improve their overall well-being. Talk to your primary care provider if you have concerns about a fluttering heartbeat or are interested in lowering your blood pressure and heart disease risk.
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