MIchael Hunter, MD on Medika Life

Coffee Good for Your Heart, But There is a Caveat

WHICH OF THESE IS THE MOST ACCURATE observation regarding coffee consumption?

  • A. Habitual coffee drinking increases your risk of atrial fibrillation, a condition marked by an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots in the heart, stroke, heart failure, and more.
  • B. All coffee types have been associated with improved cholesterol, including lower “bad” LDL and increased “good” HDL cholesterol.
  • C. Middle-age coffee drinking improves heart volumes and is associated with improvements in risk of death from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke.

If you guessed “C,” it’s a bingo! Today we look at a few recent studies examining the health effects of coffee consumption.

We start with the encouraging findings of a recent study. Presenting at the virtual European Society of Cardiology Congress 2021, Dr. Judit Simon offered this observation: Drinking as many as three cups of coffee daily appeared associated with a one-fifth (21 percent) lower stroke risk.

In addition, middle-aged coffee consumers had a one-sixth (17 percent) drop in cardiovascular disease mortality and a 12 percent reduction in the risk of death from all causes. Finally, the coffee drinkers had more favorable heart imaging (magnetic resonance imaging or MRI) findings.

These reductions are compared with non-drinkers (that is, consumers of less than half a cup of coffee per day). Researchers followed half of the subjects for more than 11 years.

Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash

For the participants who had heart MRI imaging, coffee consumption appeared associated with significant increases in heart mass (in an area known as the left ventricle). The clinical significance of such findings is unclear.

“It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who view it as some kind of recreational activity.”
― Dave Barry

Coffee and heart rhythm problems

The short answer is no: In general, coffee does not heighten your risk for heart arrhythmias. Scientists examined 300,000 individuals and recently reported their findings.

Coffee lowered the risk of experiencing an incident of arrhythmia after researchers adjusted for other lifestyle habits, health problems, and demographics. After an average follow-up of 4.5 years, habitual coffee drinking did not appear associated with a higher risk of cardiac rhythm problems.

There is a caveat: Transient and undiagnosed arrhythmias. Nevertheless, recent evidence suggests that coffee doesn’t increase the risk of persistent, diagnosed arrhythmias.

Moreover, coffee drinking does not appear to affect blood pressure significantly. Some studies suggest coffee may lower high blood pressure risk.

Coffee and cholesterol

Does coffee drinking improve cholesterol levels? It depends. A 2020 research study from the United Kingdom biobank showed that coffee type is important. For example, unfiltered express coffees (such as French press) result in higher levels of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. The standard ground of instant coffee does not appear to have this adverse effect.

The European Society of Cardiology Congress 2021 study did not identify an optimal coffee volume. It showed that, compared with not drinking coffee, drinking instant coffee appeared linked to a lower risk of early death (but not cardiovascular mortality or stroke).

Filtered coffee also lowered the risk of early death, but there was no improvement in the heart attack risk. Finally (this one applied to me), drinking decaffeinated coffee appeared associated with a lower probability of all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality.

Photo by Fahmi Fakhrudin on Unsplash

Coffee — Takeaway messages

It is heartening that the extensive studies presented showed no signals pointing to harm from coffee consumption. Instead, low-to-moderate coffee intake in midlife is associated with cardiovascular benefits. Thank you for joining me today.

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Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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