There is no evidence to suggest that moderate coffee consumption is associated with the development of heart conditions. This is supported by the British Heart Foundation which states that ‘drinking a moderate amount of coffee should not affect your heart. Cutting down on coffee is less likely to help people protect their heart than other measures such as physical activity, a diet low in saturated fat and one that includes at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day’. The debate about coffee health and the effects of coffee drinking on heart disease has yielded a great deal of scientific study in recent years. The overwhelming scientific evidence concludes that between 4 and 5 cups per day for the general will not significantly affect a person’s risk of coronary heart disease or stroke. Pregnant women should however moderate their intake following the guidelines issued by the Food Standards Agency in 2008, to 200mg caffeine per day from all sources.
Heart disease is a major cause of disability and premature death, according to the British Heart Foundation. Heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, raised cholesterol and blood pressure are all elements of heart health or coronary heart disease. Although genetic predisposition plays a role in heart disease certain lifestyle factors such a cigarette smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise and stress can also contribute to the development of this disease.
Coffee and heart health
There is no evidence to suggest that moderate coffee consumption, of 4-5 cups per day for the general population is associated with the development of heart conditions. This is supported by the British Heart Foundation who state that, ‘Drinking a moderate amount of coffee should not affect your heart. Cutting down on coffee is less likely to help people protect their heart than other measures such as physical activity, a diet low in saturated fat and one that includes at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day’ (1).
Coffee drinking and cigarette smoking have in the past been closely linked, and so coffee drinking, while certainly not harmful itself, has been shown simply to be a marker for other factors and habits that are associated with heart disease. More up to date research shows little evidence that coffee consumption increases the risk of coronary heart disease (2). In 2008, the same researchers went on to publish research which shows that ‘regular coffee consumption was not associated with an increased mortality rate in either men or women. The possibility of a modest benefit of coffee consumption on all cause and CVD mortality needs to be further investigated’ (3).
High blood pressure is acknowledged as being a major factor in the development of heart disease. Hypertension, the prevalence of which is increasing in Western societies, is mainly caused by being overweight, physical inactivity, high sodium intake and low potassium intake, with the impact of coffee being quite small by comparison (4). The slight increase in blood pressure levels attributable to coffee is not larger than that experienced during common activities such as taking part in a conversation.
The scientific evidence concludes that moderate coffee consumption does not significantly affect peoples’ risk of stroke, indeed recent research suggests that coffee may even have a protective effect (5)
Raised cholesterol levels have also been shown to be responsible for heart disease. The only method of brewing coffee which is known to have a significant effect on cholesterol levels is the Scandinavian ‘boiled’ method, where the coffee grounds are boiled with water and then served without filtering. Research conducted in the Netherlands did suggest that consumption of coffee brewed in a ‘Cafetière’ type pot could raise cholesterol levels, however, this research has little relevance to normal coffee consumption in the UK because the participants in the study had to consume over 5 cups per day, every day for six months, of very strong coffee – so strong in fact that it had to be diluted in order to make it palatable.
A UK Department of Health report has stated that, ‘coffee drinking as practised in the UK does not appear to affect coronary heart disease risk’ (6).
Coffee is frequently blamed for causing palpitations (irregular heartbeats) though research conducted in Edinburgh found that individuals experienced palpitations – irrespective of whether they consumed coffee or not (7). The British Heart Foundation state that ‘studies which have investigated the link between caffeine and abnormal heart rhythms, or cardiac arrhythmias have found that moderate amounts of caffeine do not necessarily lead to life threatening arrhythmias. This implies that drinking a modest amount of coffee should not increase your risk’ (8).
The debate about the effects of coffee drinking on heart disease has yielded a great deal of scientific study in recent years. The overwhelming scientific evidence shows that moderate coffee consumption, of 4-5 cups per day, is perfectly safe for the general population and may confer health benefits. Pregnant women should however moderate their intake following the guidelines issued by the Food Standards Agency, to 200mg caffeine per day from all sources.
1. British Heart Foundation, Medical Information Department, August 2006
2. Lopez Garcia E. Circulation, Volume 113, 2006
3. Lopez Garcia E. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2008
4. Geleijnse JM. European Journal of Public Health, Volume 14, 2006
5. Lopez-Garcia, E., et al Circulation – Journal of the American Heart Association, 2009
6. Newby. Heart, Volume 76, 355-357, 1996
7. Department of Health, Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy, Report on Health and Social Subjects, 46, HMSO London, 1994
8. British Heart Foundation Statement, October 2003