Coffee and Heart Health: The Surprising Truth.

Go ahead, have another cup of coffee, it may actually be good for you! For many years coffee and the caffeine it contains have been considered harmful to the heart. However, this perception of coffee and caffeine may be misinformed according to dietary information from three large, well-known heart disease studies suggests drinking one or more cups of caffeinated coffee may reduce heart failure risk, according to research published in Circulation: Heart failure, an American Heart Association journal.

Coronary artery disease, heart failure and stroke are among the top causes of death from heart disease in the U.S. Smoking, age and high blood pressure are some of the most well-known heart disease risk factors however unidentified risk factors for heart disease remain. Heart disease is a rampant problem in the U.S., killing about 655,000 Americans every year, making it the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. According to research from three heart disease studies, drinking one or more cups of caffeinated coffee may actually reduce your risk for heart failure while even promoting heart health.

David P. Kao, M.D., assistant professor of cardiology and medical director at the Colorado Center for Personalized Medicine led the study along with Dr. Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., R.D., professor at Northwestern University and member of the American Heart association’s nutrition committee. They used machine learning through the American Heart Association’s Precision Medicine Platform to examine data from the original cohort of the Framingham heart study and referenced it against data from both the Atherosclerosis risk in communities study and the cardiovascular health study to help confirm their findings. Each study included at least 10 years of follow-up and the studies provided information on more than 21,000 U.S. adult participants. It is important to note that some limitations of the study included differences in the way coffee drinking was recorded and the type that was consumed. There also may have been variability in the unit of measurement for 1 cup of coffee which could result in different caffeine levels. In addition, the studies only analyzed caffeinated vs. decaffeinated coffee, therefore these results may not apply to energy drinks, teas, or soda.

In order to measure the outcomes of drinking caffeinated coffee, researchers categorized consumption as 0 cups per day, 1 cup per day, 2 cups per day and 3 cups per day. Across all three studies, coffee consumption was self-reported and no standard unit of measure was available. In all three studies, people who reported drinking one or more cups of caffeinated coffee had an associated decreased long-term heart failure risk. In the Framingham Heart and the Cardiovascular Health studies, the risk of heart failure over the course of decades decreased by 5 to 12% per cup per day of coffee, compared with no coffee consumption. According to the Atherosclerosis risk in communities study, the risk of heart failure did not change between 0 to 1 cup per day of coffee; however, it was about 30% lower in people who drank at least 2 cups a day. Drinking decaffeinated coffee appeared to have an opposite effect on heart failure risk, significantly increasing the risk of heart failure in the Framingham Heart study. However in the cardiovascular health study, there was no increase or decrease in risk of heart failure associated with drinking decaffeinated coffee. When researchers examined these findings further, they found caffeine consumption from any source appeared to be associated with decreased heart failure risk.

These findings come as a surprise due to caffeine typically being viewed as “bad” for the heart since people associate it with palpitations, high blood pressure, etc. “The consistent relationship between increasing caffeine consumption and decreasing heart failure risk turns that assumption on its head.”, according to Dr. Kao. Despite the results of the three studies, Dr. Kao and his colleagues believe there is not yet enough clear evidence to recommend increasing coffee consumption to decrease risk of heart disease the way they would recommend quitting smoking, losing weight or exercising. According to the federal dietary guidelines, three to five 8-ounce cups of coffee can be a part of a health diet if they are consumed plain, without sugar and high fat cream. The American Heart Association warns that popular coffee-based drinks like lattes and macchiatos are often very high in calories and sugar content making them poor choices for heart and general health. Drinking plain coffee in moderation may lower the risk of heart disease, however, exercise and healthy eating are still considered the most effective strategies for keeping your heart in shape. That being said, drinking your coffee black in addition to other healthy habits may improve your heart health while also boosting your energy.

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