Coffee and Heart Health


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The waters of the effect of coffee on heart health remain muddy, despite considerable research efforts. In a long list of publication is the latest from Harvard Medical School suggesting that those with a palate for coffee need not give it up for better heart health. This is in contrast to other studies, which makes it rather difficult to sort through the notoriously inconsistent findings.

The Harvard study followed 128,000 men and women for more than 20 years. After adjusting for various factors, the researchers found that even people who drank as many as four to five cups of coffee a day had no greater risk of heart diseases than those who consumed less than one cup a month. Significantly, earlier analyses had found no connection between coffee and blood pressure, further suggesting that there was no correlation with heart disease.

Nonetheless, previous studies have not allowed unequivocal conclusions to be drawn. For example, Australian researchers found that consumption of more than five cups of coffee a day increased the risk of heart attack and unstable angina. Likewise, Greek scientists reported that coffee resulted in stiffening of the heart valve, while other Southern European researchers implied that coffee consumption may trigger sudden cardiac death.

Additional studies have suggested that coffee tends to increase blood cholesterol levels. This, however, appears to be an issue with the boiled, unfiltered coffee more common in Europe and coffee made the "French press" way. Filtered drip coffee, the typical American brew, has not been implicated.

One of the explanations for these divergent results could be because of how individuals metabolize coffee. Accordingly, Canadian researchers recently showed that coffee increased the risk of heart attacks only in those people with a gene for slower caffeine metabolism.

On the flip side of the coin, however, coffee may have some health benefits as well, such as reducing the risk of colon cancer and diabetes. After all, coffee beans do contain a mix of beneficial antioxidants, including chlorogenic acid.

So, what is the bottom line? A regular coffee drinker with otherwise no risk of cardiovascular problems may nonetheless want to restrict coffee intake to two or three eight-ounce cups of filtered drip coffee. Further, the intake of espresso, cappuccino and lattes should be avoided, as they are more concentrated.

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