Can drinking coffee help your heart?

Drink up! Whether it is a single origin or a blend, a specialty brand or a grocery brand, hot or iced, brewed or espresso, the health benefits surrounding coffee consumption continue to be uncovered.

New research – based on pooled data from three large epidemiological studies – finds that having one or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day may reduce the risk of heart failure. Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine investigated the diet domain in the Framingham Heart Study, Cardiovascular Heart Study, and the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study to identify potential lifestyle and behavioural factors associated with coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.

Published in the 9 February 2021 issue of Circulation: Heart Failure, the findings suggest that higher coffee intake was revealed to be associated with reduced risk of heart failure in all three studies. However, further study is needed to better define the role, possible causality, and potential mechanism of coffee consumption as a potential modifiable risk factor for heart failure.

Researchers analysed data from more than 21,000 adults in the United States ranging in ages 30 to 64 who took part in the three major studies. Participants were followed for at least 10 years. In all three studies, drinking one or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day was associated with decreased long-term risk of heart failure.

In the Framingham Heart (FH) and the Cardiovascular Health (CH) studies, the risk of heart failure fell by 5%-12% per cup of coffee each day, compared with having no coffee. The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study discovered that the risk of heart failure did not change with zero to one cup of coffee per day but was about 30% lower in people who had at least two cups a day.

“The association between caffeine and heart failure risk reduction was surprising. Coffee and caffeine are often considered by the general population to be ‘bad’ for the heart because people associate them with palpitations, high blood pressure, etc. The consistent relationship between increasing caffeine consumption and decreasing heart failure risk turns that assumption on its head,” said David P Kao, MD, senior author of the study, assistant professor of cardiology and medical director at the Colorado Center for Personalized Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, Colorado, in a statement from Circulation.

Dr Kao pointed out that the findings cannot prove cause and effect, and they also do not mean that coffee is any substitute for healthy living when it comes to the heart. “There is not yet enough clear evidence to recommend increasing coffee consumption to decrease risk of heart disease with the same strength and certainty as stopping smoking, losing weight or exercising.”

Further analysis showed that caffeine from any source appeared to be associated with decreased heart failure risk, and that caffeine played at least some role in coffee’s apparent heart benefit, according to the authors. [The findings for decaffeinated coffee were different. The CHS found no link between decaf and heart failure risk, while the FHS found that decaf was associated with a significantly higher risk of heart failure.]

It is important to note that the studies were observational, not clinical and coffee intake was self-reported. Furthermore, the amount of coffee was not standardized – does one cup mean 6 ounces of coffee, 8oz, 12oz or 16oz – nor was the method of preparation (drip, percolated, French press, pour over, espresso, etc.) or the origin of the coffee beans, specified.

Does this mean upping your daily coffee consumption or starting to drink coffee if you never have before? Not necessarily. According to the (US) federal dietary guidelines, three to five 8-ounce cups of coffee per day can be part of a healthy diet, but that refers to only plain black coffee.

“While unable to prove causality, it is intriguing that these three studies suggest that drinking coffee is associated with a decreased risk of heart failure and that coffee can be part of a healthy dietary pattern if consumed plain, without added sugar and high fat dairy products such as cream,” said Penny M Kris-Etherton, PhD, RDN, immediate past chairperson of the American Heart Association’s Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Council Leadership Committee, Evan Pugh University Professor of Nutritional Sciences and distinguished professor of nutrition at The Pennsylvania State University, College of Health and Human Development in University Park said in the journal release. “The bottom line: enjoy coffee in moderation as part of an overall heart-healthy dietary pattern that meets recommendations for fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat/non-fat dairy products, and that also is low in sodium, saturated fat and added sugars.

The new study may be just a “a starting point” for further investigation, but for now, enjoy that daily cuppa joe!

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