Coffee Consumption: Continuing Controversy

A recent study indicates that drinking coffee doesn’t have the detrimental effects on our arteries that some previous research suggested. The findings indicate that drinking coffee, even as many as 25 cups per day, is not associated with having stiffer arteries.

Findings in new research from Queen Mary University in London show that coffee isn’t the artery-damaging culprit that other studies have suggested. The study of more than 8,000 people in the United Kingdom has debunked previous studies that claimed drinking coffee increases arterial stiffness. According to the research team, such claims are inconsistent and may be limited by participation of fewer study subjects.

Arteries carry blood containing oxygen and nutrients from the heart to the rest of the body. Stiffened arteries can increase the workload on the heart and raise an individual’s chances of experiencing a heart attack or stroke. The study categorized coffee consumption into three groups: those who drink less than one cup per day, those who drink between one and three cups per day, and those who drink more than three cups per day. Although people who consumed more than 25 cups of coffee per day were excluded, no increased artery stiffening was associated with those in this group of very high consumption compared with those who drank less than one cup per day.

Participants underwent MRI heart scans and infrared pulse wave tests to assess arterial damage. Kenneth Fung, a clinical research PhD student, led the data analysis of the research conducted at Queen Mary University of London. “Despite the huge popularity of coffee worldwide, different reports could put people off from enjoying it. Whilst we can’t prove a causal link in this study, our research indicates coffee isn’t as bad for the arteries as previous studies would suggest,” he said.

In recent years, several studies have suggested that drinking coffee has significant health benefits. Funded by the American Heart Association and the University of Colorado School of Medicine, researchers found that the risk of heart failure or stoke decreased by 8% for each additional cup of coffee consumed per day. A British study of more than 498,000 people found that those who habitually drank coffee were between 10% and 15% less likely to die during any 10-year period than non-coffee drinkers. A Stanford University study tracking 100 people over several years showed that coffee drinkers tended to live longer than non-coffee drinkers. And a Spanish study found that drinking four cups of coffee per day led to a 64% lower risk of dying among study participants compared with non-coffee drinkers.

A new study from South Australia, published in the March 2019 edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, suggests an upper limit to daily coffee consumption. Specifically, the research notes, when coffee consumption reaches six cups per day, the risk of heart disease increases by 22%. “In order to maintain a healthy heart and healthy blood pressure, people must limit their coffees to fewer than six cups a daybased on our data, six was the tipping point where caffeine started to negatively affect cardiovascular risk,” said one of the study’s authors, Elina Hypponen, director of the Australian Centre for Precision Health.

A team led by Robin Poole, MB, ChB, MRCGP, PGCert, MSc, MFPH, a specialist registrar in public health at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, with collaborators from the University of Edinburgh, conducted an umbrella review of 201 studies that had aggregated data from observational research and 17 studies that had aggregated data from clinical trials across all countries and all settings. Findings suggested that drinking coffee was consistently associated with a lower risk of death from all causes and from heart disease, with the largest reduction in relative risk of death at three cups per day. Increasing consumption to more than three cups per day was not associated with harm, but the beneficial effect was less pronounced. The researchers concluded that coffee drinking “seems safe within usual patterns of consumption, except during pregnancy and in women at increased risk of fracture.”

What conclusions can we draw from all the research findings? Moderation in coffee consumption appears to be well advised.

Ithaca Primary Care

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