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A hot cuppa coffee for brewing heart health
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A hot cuppa coffee for brewing heart health

Recent studies show that drinking up to six cups of coffee a day can help lower the risk of heart failure, stroke and heart attack

Many people look up to the refreshing aroma and the pleasant warmth of a hot cup of coffee, the first things in the morning. Coffee offers that much-needed boost for energy levels to kick start the day, and to add to the delight of all coffee lovers, here’s some fascinating news. Recent studies have shown consuming coffee can also be beneficial for your heart health.         

A 2021 study, titled ‘Association Between Coffee Intake and Incident Heart Failure Risk’, published by Laura M. Stevens, Erik Linstead, Jennifer L. Hall and David P. Kao, observed that people who reported higher coffee consumption rates were associated with decreased long-term risk of heart failure concordantly in cohort groups of Framingham Heart Study (FHS), Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC), and Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS). The study was published in the American Heart Association journal, Circulation: Heart Failure.

In an email interaction with Happiest Health, an author of the study and Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, University of Colorado, Dr David P Kao said, “Originally, this study was intended to use machine learning to identify dietary factors out of a wide range of foods that may affect the risk of developing heart failure. But our analysis identified coffee as one of the top factors associated with reducing heart failure in the Framingham study. From there, we looked at the association between coffee and heart failure in other large studies and found a very similar pattern.”

Coffee and heart health

According to Dr Michael Broman, a cardiologist with OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute in Urbana, Illinois, based on the available data from 2014 to 2021, regular intake of up to six cups per day has not been shown to increase the risks of cardiovascular events.

Coffee has multiple effects that are not yet fully elucidated, said Dr Gregory Marcus, associate chief of cardiology for research, UCSF Health, San Francisco.

For a long time, the beverage has usually been considered not good for the heart as it is said to increase heart rate and blood pressure. Dr Marcus said, “It may increase blood pressure, but it also may be vasodilating (a mechanism to enhance blood flow to areas of the body that are lacking oxygen and/or nutrients), which could reduce blood pressure. Interestingly, there may be heterogeneous effects across individuals depending on their genetic propensities and other behaviours. There is compelling evidence that those who consume coffee may experience less diabetes and various heart rhythm disturbances.”

Dr Broman added that with regular gradual intake, the body gets tolerant to caffeine (the primary active ingredient), and the blood pressure effects are minimal. “Certain people with genetic variations in their liver enzymes may metabolise caffeine more slowly and are more sensitive to it. Even in these people, the cardiovascular risks with regular caffeine intake are negligible,” he said.

He added that it also has a mild anti-platelet (blood thinning) effect. “These vasodilation and blood-thinning effects are postulated to be cardio-protective mechanisms,” he said, adding that according to multiple pooled clinical trials, moderate consumption has resulted in fewer cardiac arrhythmias, and lower risks for stroke, coronary artery disease, heart failure, and cardiac death.

Dr Marcus added, “These beneficial effects may stem from a number of different mechanisms. For example, caffeine may increase exercise performance and might, therefore, motivate more physical activity. There may also be anti-inflammatory effects.”

Interestingly, the study also found that consumption of decaffeinated coffee could result in a gradual increase in the risk of heart failure.

What kind of coffee is good for the heart?

Bengaluru-based Sunalini Menon, president of Coffee lab Ltd and president of the Women’s Coffee Alliance – India chapter, said coffee acts as a stimulant. “It energises you. It also has a lot of antioxidants like chlorogenic acid and tannins,” she said.

Menon said, “When the studies say four cups, they mean four cups of black coffee. But in India, people consume it with milk and lots of sugar, which is not healthy. The quantum of coffee that you drink in a cup of milk coffee is much less than a cup of pure black coffee.”

There have also been studies that compare different modes of brewing (i.e. filter vs. percolated vs. espresso), with some suggestions that filtered is better. Dr Kao said, “This could reflect a role of some of the oils present which is retained more with filtering, but this is very early data.”

Dr Marcus said, “We still do not completely understand the various constituents in coffee that are responsible for its variable effects, and it can be difficult to fully disentangle effects related to coffee versus caffeine.” Dr Broman added, “Many compounds are destroyed in the bean-roasting process. Unroasted, or ‘green’ coffee beans, are higher in these compounds which include ‘polyphenols’ (of which chlorogenic acid is one) and other antioxidants,” he said. But Menon added the quantity of chlorogenic acid reduces depending on the degree of roast the beans are exposed to. “The darker the roast, the more you lose the chlorogenic acid. So, if you prefer more chlorogenic acid, you can opt for a medium roast,” she said.  

But coffee alone is not enough to prevent heart problems. Dr Broman also added that a healthy and active lifestyle was integral for ensuring cardiac health and wellness.

Takeaways

  • Recent studies have shown consuming coffee can also be beneficial for your heart. 
  • Moderate and regular consumption of up to six cups of coffee with caffeine has resulted in fewer cardiac arrhythmias and lower risks for stroke, coronary artery disease, heart failure, and cardiac death.
  • It is said to dilate blood vessels and has a mild anti-platelet (blood thinning) effect. Coffee also has a lot of antioxidants like chlorogenic acid.
  • But coffee alone is not enough to prevent heart problems. Experts also recommend proper diet and exercise and regular check-ups with physicians.

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