Is Coffee Bad for the Heart? Or Maybe It Can Even Protect Heart Health?

It is our favorite morning drink: coffee. On average, everyone drinks 475 cups a year. But can that be good for the heart? And how do other drinks affect health? In this article, you are going to learn:

  • Does coffee protect the heart?
  • Does coffee disturb the heart rhythm?
  • Is red wine or white wine healthier for the heart?
  • Does milk in coffee increase the risk of atherosclerosis?
  • How good is the fruit juice in the morning?

It is a common belief that coffee is harmful to the heart. However, scientific study results contradict this. Coffee does not seem to increase the risk of heart disease.

Too much strong coffee and your heart will beat faster. Blood pressure can also rise if you are not used to coffee. This observation has long made doctors doubt whether coffee is healthy for people with cardiovascular disease. But is there any data from studies that support this assumption? And what about people without heart disease — regular consumption of coffee increases the risk of cardiac arrhythmias for them, or even worse, heart attack, stroke, or even death?

Does coffee protect the heart?

Coffee always causes discussions: some swear by the stimulating effect. The others lift their fingers at the caffeine it contains. “According to current studies, there is no indication that coffee has negative effects on the heart. However, there are also no meaningful data that clearly demonstrate a positive benefit on the heart,” says Ulrich Laufs, Director of the Clinic and Polyclinic for Cardiology at University Hospital Leipzig.

Among the foods that support a healthy heart are:

  • Garlic
  • Salmon
  • Red wine
  • Spinach
  • Watermelon
  • Dark chocolate

If you like to drink two to three cups of coffee a day, whether in the form of espresso, cappuccino, latte macchiato, or filter coffee, you can continue to enjoy it as a heart patient.

“You shouldn’t just look at the drink as such, but also look at the feel-good factor,” says the cardiologist.

“Drink a cup of coffee without stress and feel relaxed and satisfied with it, preferably in good company, it is beneficial for your health. The same applies to the enjoyment of green tea, black tea, and other types of tea.”

In fact, some studies have looked at the extent to which coffee is healthy or unhealthy for the heart and circulatory system. Their results show that even those who drink coffee regularly should not have an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and the like [1].

Even for frequent connoisseurs, who drink an average of five cups a day, the probability of this does not seem to be any greater than for people who never or only occasionally indulge in caffeinated hot beverages. This may also apply to those who already suffer from high blood pressure.

Can coffee help you live longer?

There is even evidence that coffee could also have a slightly positive effect on lifespan. This is at least indicated by the work of two research groups, which have summarized the study situation independently of one another [2,3].

So it is conceivable that coffee might not increase the likelihood of dying prematurely due to heart problems or other reasons. However, due to deficiencies in the summary of the study results, this is not well established.

Does coffee disturb the heart rhythm?

Contrary to the popular belief, coffee drinkers do not have an increased risk of developing cardiac arrhythmias. This is the result of an analysis carried out by researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). To this end, a team led by cardiologist Gregory Marcus evaluated the data from around half a million people that had been compiled in the UK Biobank — a large-scale biomedical database in the United Kingdom — since 2006.

Cardiac arrhythmias, for example, were less common among coffee drinkers. Out of 386,258 coffee drinkers with an average age of 56 years, only 16,369 were diagnosed with arrhythmia — over a period of four years. The so-called atrial fibrillation was the most common.

What’s more, the cardiologists also state that with every additional cup of coffee, the risk of cardiac arrhythmias can be reduced by three percent. However, the research team does not provide any reasons. It is possible that “the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of coffee […] play a role,” writes Gregory Marcus.

However, the researchers emphasize that further research is necessary. Because the analysis data was based entirely on self-reported information. In addition, it was not recorded what kind of coffee the test subjects drank.

Is wine healthier for the heart?

Red wine and white wine are also hotly debated. In the case of red wine, there are suspicions that it may be superior to white wine. The processed coffee kernels and shells contain phytochemicals such as polyphenols and catechins, which are classified as beneficial for health. But according to the expert, there is no conclusive evidence for this either.

“It is important that you only drink wine — and alcohol in general — in moderation. There is nothing wrong with a glass of red wine or beer in the evening with regard to the heart,” says Laufs.

With one caveat: people with high blood lipids should avoid alcohol. In addition, the possible effects of alcohol on other organs, such as the liver, and the risk of addiction should not be underestimated.

Does milk increase the risk of atherosclerosis?

And what about milk? After all, like other animal products, it contains cholesterol. Too high a cholesterol level in the blood promotes deposits in the arteries. According to the cardiologist, there is nothing to worry about here either.

“If you consume a normal amount of milk, there are no negative effects on the heart to be feared,” says Laufs. “For all drinks as part of the diet, the total calorie intake should not exceed the calorie consumption.”

How good is the fruit juice in the morning?

The expert is less relaxed about the high consumption of sugary lemonades and fruit juices. A permanently too high sugar or fructose intake quickly leads to an increase in calories. And that is associated with weight gain. If it becomes too much, the metabolism gets out of step. This is especially true for people with diabetes mellitus and excess weight. This also increases the risk of atherosclerosis.

As the disease progresses, there is a risk of heart attack and stroke. “The glass of freshly squeezed orange juice in the morning is not the problem. Sugar becomes critical if, for example, you drink several glasses of cola every day. That adds up,” says Laufs.

“Especially among adolescents, increased consumption of lemonade increases the risk of obesity. This can be dangerous for their health — and the heart — in the long term.” The pancreas is also constantly challenged which increases the risk in terms of diabetes.

Possible protective effects of coffee

Not only coffee is unlikely to harm the heart: the studies published so far even provide indications that moderate amounts (three to four cups a day) could be healthy for the heart and possibly reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

The possible protective effect, however, should only be moderate. Overall, in the studies analyzed, around 28 out of 1000 people suffered a heart attack, stroke, or another cardiovascular disease within ten years [1]. According to the research, consuming three to four cups of coffee a day would reduce this risk by 4 per 1,000 people.

However, with larger amounts of coffee, the possible protective effect seems to disappear. With just one or two cups a day, the effect would be less and would correspond to a reduction of only 3 per 1000 people affected.

However, these studies cannot completely rule out the fact that the relationship is exactly the opposite: It is conceivable that people would drink a lot of coffee when they are healthy — while those with heart disease tend to do without it.

The cardiologist emphasizes that in connection with a healthy heart, the choice of drinks plays a rather subordinate role. The main thing is to keep an eye on the overall situation.

One of the biggest risk factors for the heart is smoking, followed by a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. “Your overall lifestyle is more important than individual drinks,” says Laufs. “The most important thing is: don’t smoke and get regular exercise.”

When is the best time to drink my coffee?

Coffee is a stimulant for the body and mind. On the one hand, caffeine constricts the blood vessels, the heart has to pump the blood with more pressure, the brain and the rest of the body are optimally supplied with blood. On the other hand, caffeine blocks the neurotransmitter adenosine in the brain, which makes you sleepy.

The neuroscientist Steven Miller from Maryland thinks, however, that having coffee at the wrong time, the stimulant effect falls by the wayside. When the cortisol level in the body and thus the natural level of alertness is highest between eight and nine o’clock in the morning, caffeine can do little. It’s similar between noon and 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., says Miller. The ideal time for a stimulating cup of coffee is therefore in the morning between 9.30 and 11.30 a.m.

Important note: The information is in no way a substitute for professional advice or treatment by trained and recognized medical practitioners. The contents of this article must not be used to make diagnoses or start medical treatments.

This article has been adapted from Coffee GuideBook blog.

Medical literature

[1] Long-term coffee consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and a dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Circulation. 2014 Feb 11;129(6):643–59.

[2] Coffee consumption and risk of all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality in smokers and non-smokers: a dose-response meta-analysis. European Journal of Epidemiology. 2016 Dec;31(12):1191–1205.

[3] Je Y, Giovannucci E. Coffee consumption and total mortality: a meta-analysis of twenty prospective cohort studies.British Journal of Nutrition. 2014 Apr 14;111(7):1162–73.

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IT copywriter and tech content marketer. On Medium, I write about technology, self-improvement, and marketing. I am available for freelance projects.

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Julie Gabriel

Julie Gabriel

IT copywriter and tech content marketer. On Medium, I write about technology, self-improvement, and marketing. I am available for freelance projects.

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