Drinking coffee is linked to better cardiovascular health, longevity

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A study found that drinking light to moderate coffee daily can help reduce the risk of arrhythmias, the risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. Sabine Krish/EyeEm/Getty Images
  • Researchers analyzed how the amount and type of coffee consumption affected the risk of arrhythmias, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality in adults aged 40 to 69.
  • They found that drinking 2-3 cups of coffee daily, whether instant, ground or decaffeinated, was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death.
  • Consumption of caffeinated coffee, whether ground or instant, is also associated with a lower risk of arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation.
  • The findings suggest that light to moderate coffee intake of all types should be considered part of a healthy lifestyle, and people with heart disease do not necessarily have to give up coffee.

Good news for coffee drinkers came out earlier this year with studies reporting that drinking coffee is associated with a lower risk of death and that moderate daily coffee drinking can reduce the risk of kidney damage by 23%.

Historically, however, more than 75% of medical professionals have done so advised patients with cardiovascular disease should avoid coffee. Recent observations studies challenges this misconception by discussing the safety and beneficial effects of caffeine consumption on arrhythmia and cardiovascular disease.

There was little information about the effects of different types of coffee on heart health. This prompted researchers at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, to conduct a large observational study that would provide some insight into the role of caffeine on cardiovascular outcomes by comparing the effects of decaffeinated and caffeinated coffee.

Recently published findings show that instant, ground and decaffeinated coffee, especially 2-3 cups per day, is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death, and caffeinated coffee significantly reduces the risk of arrhythmia.

Prof Peter Kistler, PhD, study author and head of the Baker Heart and Diabetes Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, explained:

“The real-world implications are that coffee should be considered part of a healthy diet. People should NOT stop drinking coffee if they develop any form of heart disease, including heart rhythm disorders, unless they notice a specific personal connection between drinking coffee and their symptoms.

The study does not suggest that if you have heart disease you should start drinking coffee, but rather that if you already drink coffee, you should feel reassured that it is not only safe, but somewhat protective.

The study was published in European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Between 1 January 2006 and 31 December 2010, the study included UK Biobank participants aged 40 to 69 years.

The study included 449,563 participants who had not been diagnosed with cardiovascular problems at enrollment. The average age of the participants was 58 years, and 55.3% were women.

The researchers asked participants to self-report how many cups of coffee they drank each day and the type of coffee they usually drank using a touchscreen questionnaire. The different types of coffee, in order of popularity, were:

  • instant coffee (44.1% of participants)
  • ground coffee (18.4%)
  • decaffeinated coffee (15.2%)

22.4% of the study population did not drink coffee and served as the comparison group. For each type of coffee, the researchers divided the study participants into 6 categories, depending on the daily intake: 0.5 cups/day.

The researchers followed the health status of the participants for 12.5 years and determined their health outcomes by looking at the ICD (International Classification of Diseases) codes in the medical records and death records.

The study adjusted for factors that affect the risk of cardiovascular problems, including age, sex, alcohol intake, tea intake, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea and smoking status. The researchers then found that people who habitually drank ground, instant or decaffeinated coffee had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease and death from any cause than people who did not drink coffee.

The researchers noted that consumption of 2-3 cups of coffee per day, regardless of the type of coffee, was consistently associated with the greatest reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, and death from any reason.

An arrhythmia is when the heart beats too slowly, too fast, or irregularly. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)atrial fibrillation is the most common type of heart arrhythmia treated.

The researchers found that ground and instant coffee, but not decaffeinated coffee, was associated with a lower risk of arrhythmia, including atrial fibrillation. They saw a “U-shaped” relationship between caffeinated coffee intake and arrhythmia risk, with the lowest risk seen in those who consumed 2-3 cups of coffee daily.

“This study is novel in identifying specific benefits of caffeinated coffee on atrial fibrillation that are biologically plausible given the effects of caffeine on adenosine receptors on cardiac cells,” Pro. Kistler said MNT.

The heart must beat rhythmically to circulate blood throughout the body. The period in which the heart relaxes between beats is the refractory period. Adenosine produced by the body shortens the refractory period, which increases the risk of arrhythmias.

Previous studies suggest that caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, effectively protecting the heart from the effects of adenosine. Therefore, this antiarrhythmic property of caffeine may explain the different effects of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee on arrhythmia risk reported in this study.

Dr. Eric Topol, cardiologist, professor and founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, expressed enthusiasm about the new study’s findings on Twitter:

In their paper, the researchers identified several study limitations that should be kept in mind when interpreting their findings. First, some participants had to be omitted from the analysis due to missing data.

Study participants’ coffee consumption was self-reported, which carries a potential risk of reporting bias. Participants could only select one type of coffee from the questionnaire, but some participants may have drunk more than one type of coffee daily. Furthermore, the researchers assumed that participants’ coffee consumption did not change from baseline to follow-up. However, it is possible that some participants drank more than one type of coffee over time.

The researchers also acknowledge that the system used to track participants’ health (ICD-10 codes) is susceptible to measurement and reporting errors. In addition, some arrhythmias, especially atrial/ventricular ectopy, may have gone undetected.

The participants’ alcohol and tea intake was taken into account in the analysis, but other components of the participants’ diets may have influenced their health outcomes.

Finally, as the majority of the UK Biobank population is Caucasian, the conclusions of the study may not fully apply to people of other ethnicities.

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