Coffee and heart health

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Newspapers recently reported that up to 25 cups of coffee a day could be safe for heart health, but what are the facts behind these headlines?

Media coverage surrounding coffee’s role in heart health can be conflicting, with reports emerging the drink can be bad for the heart, have no effect at all, or could even be good. A recent widely reported study, involving 8,412 people across the UK, concluded that there was no link between coffee consumption and arterial stiffness, a condition associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, even in those who drank up to 25 cups of coffee a day1. The findings were presented at a meeting of the British Cardiovascular Society earlier this year. Global media ran with headlines that drinking 25 cups of coffee were safe for the heart, but was this an accurate takeaway from the study itself?

The study divided individuals into three groups according to their coffee consumption (<1 cup per day; 1-3 cups per day; >3 cups per day), concluding that even those drinking the highest amounts of coffee a day were no more likely to have stiffening of the arteries than those who drank less than one cup a day1. However, in dividing the group into three subgroups the researchers created one group with an extremely large variability in coffee intake, namely the drinking more than 3 cups a day. This subgroup consumed an average of 5 cups of coffee per day1. Moderate coffee consumption can be defined as 3-5 cups per day, based on the European Food Safety Authority’s review of caffeine safety2.  However, two subjects in this subgroup consumed 25 cups of coffee a day, leading to the headlines seen in national newspapers. Whether these two individuals had different results to the rest of the group who consumed 3 or more cups is unknown1.

Other research in this area has produced differing results. A 2013 study in Japanese men concluded that coffee consumption was in fact associated with decreased arterial stiffness independent of known heart disease risk factors3. However, a further study in healthy individuals suggested that prolonged coffee consumption could lead to aortic stiffness, which may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease4. It seems further research is required to understand the effect of coffee consumption on arterial stiffness, including the amount of coffee consumed.

  1. Arterial stiffness study unpublished. Background information: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/news/behind-the-headlines/25-cups-of-coffee
  2. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2015) Scientific Opinion on the safety of caffeine. EFSA Journal, 13(5):4102.
  3. Uemura H. et al (2013) Consumption of coffee, not green tea, is inversely associated with arterial stiffness in Japanese men. EJCN, published online ahead of print.
  4. Vlachopoulos C. et al. (2013) Chronic coffee consumption has a detrimental effect on aortic stiffness and wave reflections. Am J Clin Nutr, 81(6):1307-12.

 

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