Coffee, a morning ritual beloved by millions, has long been the subject of debate when it comes to its effects on heart health.
Over the years, research has gone back and forth on whether black liquor is friend or foe to our cardiovascular system. Dr. J. Michael Gaziano, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, sheds light on this evolving study.
In the 1960s, coffee was considered a potential risk factor for coronary heart disease. However, later studies indicated that the real danger lies in excessive coffee consumption, usually defined as more than five or six cups a day. It is important to note that people with such high coffee consumption often have other lifestyle factors that differ significantly from those who enjoy moderate amounts of coffee.
The main suspect behind coffee’s impact on heart health has always been caffeine, a well-known stimulant. People have wondered if caffeine could trigger palpitations or atrial fibrillation, fast, irregular heartbeats.
Surprisingly, a 2019 study by Dr. Gaziano found that moderate coffee drinkers, those who enjoy one to three cups a day, have a lower risk of atrial fibrillation. Those who drank more or less coffee showed no significant difference in risk.
This study, like much in the field of dietary research, was observational, relying on self-reported data and long-term health follow-up. However, a newer study took a different approach, directly measuring the short-term effects of coffee consumption.
An interesting finding was that individuals tended to take more steps on days when they consumed coffee, suggesting that caffeine may slightly improve physical performance. On the other hand, the adverse effects of caffeine on sleep are well documented, and sleep deprivation is increasingly recognized as a risk factor for heart health.
How coffee affects heart health
The challenge lies in balancing the potential benefits of increased physical activity with the disadvantages of disrupted sleep due to coffee consumption. Dr. Gaziano points out that most people are aware of how they personally react to coffee and adjust their intake accordingly. For example, he himself enjoys a cup of semi-decaffeinated coffee daily.
However, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of this new study. He only included relatively young and healthy coffee drinkers, so his findings may not apply to older people who are more prone to heart palpitations. Additionally, those who avoid coffee entirely because they find it triggers palpitations were not part of the study.
The study also revealed a slight increase in premature ventricular contractions, brief rhythm disturbances that can sometimes be alarming. Although these are usually harmless, people with existing heart conditions should see their doctor if they experience persistent irregular heart rhythms.
Given previous research, coffee’s impact on other heart-related risks is relatively mild. Although coffee can temporarily increase blood pressure, it does not increase the likelihood of developing high blood pressure, and may actually decrease the risk. Certain types of unfiltered coffee may contain compounds that raise cholesterol slightly, but this effect is probably insignificant when weighed against the rest of the diet.
According to Dr. Gaziano, when evaluating the overall impact of coffee on cardiovascular health, it appears to have a neutral effect. Therefore, for coffee enthusiasts, enjoying up to a few cups a day is generally safe, provided it does not interfere with sleep. Moreover, it is advisable to limit the addition of milk and sugar in coffee, as they can introduce saturated fat and calories into your diet, reports The Wall Street Journal.