Your daily coffee may benefit your heart and help you live longer, new study shows

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  • Drinking coffee has been linked with a lower risk of heart disease and dangerous heart rhythms.
  • This was demonstrated in a new study by researchers at the American College of Cardiology.
  • The researchers noted that drinking two to three cups of coffee a day was most beneficial.

There are several benefits to drinking coffee – from boosting our energy levels and helping us remain alert to speeding digestion and potentially protecting against diabetes.

And if your love for coffee runs deep, there’s another reason to continue consuming your favourite beverage: it’s associated with good heart health and greater longevity, according to recent studies. 

The research was conducted by scientists from the American College of Cardiology who presented their findings at the American College of Cardiology's 71st Annual Scientific Session. 

Providing reassurance

The team found that drinking two to three cups of coffee daily was linked to optimal health benefits. These findings were consistent among participants with and without cardiovascular disease.

These analyses are the largest yet to assess coffee's potential role in heart disease and death, providing reassurance that the brew may protect the heart, rather than lead to or worsen heart disease, they said

Senior author, Peter Kistler, professor and head of arrhythmia research at the Alfred Hospital and Baker Heart Institute in Melbourne, Australia, explains: "Because coffee can quicken heart rate, some people worry that drinking it could trigger or worsen certain heart issues. This is where general medical advice to stop drinking coffee may come from."

He added:

But our data suggest that daily coffee intake shouldn't be discouraged, but rather included as a part of a healthy diet for people with and without heart disease.

The average age of participants was 57 years.

The study

For the study, Kistler and his colleagues used data from the UK BioBank, a large-scale biomedical database that investigates the health of more than half a million people who were followed for at least 10 years. 

In the first analysis, the team analysed the effects of varying levels of coffee consumption, ranging from up to one cup to more than six cups a day, on the following:

  • Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias)
  • Cardiovascular disease (including coronary artery disease, heart failure and stroke)
  • Total and heart-related deaths among people both with and without cardiovascular disease

"We found coffee drinking had either a neutral effect – meaning that it did no harm – or was associated with benefits to heart health," Kistler said.

Delving deeper

Generally, they found that participants who had two to three cups of coffee a day demonstrated the greatest benefit, i.e. a 10% to 15% lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, heart failure, a heart rhythm problem, or dying, for any reason. Those who drank one cup of coffee per day had the lowest risk of stroke or heart-related death. 

A study published in 2021, which also drew on the UK Biobank data, found that drinking coffee and tea – separately, or in combination – were associated with a lower risk of stroke and dementia. “These findings may be of interest to clinicians involved in the prevention and treatment of stroke, dementia, and poststroke dementia,” the authors wrote.

Second analysis

The second analysis centred on participants who had some form of cardiovascular disease. Among this cohort, drinking two to three cups of coffee a day was associated with lower odds of dying, compared with having no coffee. 

"Clinicians generally have some apprehension about people with known cardiovascular disease or arrhythmias continuing to drink coffee, so they often err on the side of caution and advise them to stop drinking it altogether due to fears that it may 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."

More isn't always better

Drinking two to three cups of coffee daily seemed to yield the most favourable and maximum health benefits overall. Kistler, therefore, advised that people shouldn't increase their coffee intake in the hope that it will provide even greater benefit. This is especially important to bear in mind if drinking coffee makes you feel anxious or uncomfortable.

He added:

There is a whole range of mechanisms through which coffee may reduce mortality and have these favourable effects on cardiovascular disease. Coffee drinkers should feel reassured that they can continue to enjoy coffee even if they have heart disease.

How exactly is coffee beneficial?

The benefits lie in the coffee beans, not necessarily the caffeine, the researchers said.

Coffee beans have more than 100 biologically active compounds, they explained, and these substances play, among others, a key role in reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, inhibiting the gut's absorption of fat, and blocking receptors (known to be involved with abnormal heart rhythms).

When testing and comparing the benefits of instant versus ground coffee (as well as caffeinated and decaf) they found that the above benefits were seen in consumers of both ground and instant coffee. Lower rates of death were also evident in drinkers of all coffee types. While decaf coffee didn’t have a positive health impact on incident arrhythmia, it did reduce cardiovascular disease, with the exception of heart failure. 

According to Kistler, the findings of the study suggest caffeinated coffee is preferable overall, and that there aren’t any cardiovascular benefits to choosing decaf as opposed to caffeinated coffee.

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READ | The latest science on why your daily cups of tea and coffee may be good for your health

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