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Coffee Is Generally Heart-Friendly

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Coffee drinkers can take heart from a series of studies presented this week at American Heart Association conferences in San Francisco.

For example, coffee drinkers appear to have a lower risk of hospitalization for abnormal heart rhythms. And there's no indication that having a few cups every day increases the risk of atherosclerosis, the thickening of blood vessel walls that can lead to heart attacks and other problems. What's more, something in coffee other than caffeine might be responsible for a reduced risk of diabetes for women who regularly imbibe java.

Not every report at the AHA's annual conferences on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention and Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism was totally upbeat for coffee lovers. One report did find a potential link between coffee drinking and high blood pressure, but the effect was described as "modest." And, like the other studies, it came hedged with the caveat that the finding wasn't based on a controlled trial -- the gold standard for assessing risk and benefit -- but from observational studies, which don't exclude all possible factors.

The heart rhythm research looked at the rate at which 130,054 members of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program were hospitalized for heart rhythm disturbances. About 2 percent of them had hospital stays because of such abnormalities, the most common being atrial fibrillation. But the risk was 18 percent lower for those who reported drinking four or more cups of coffee a day, compared to those who didn't drink coffee, said Dr. Arthur Klatsky, a senior consultant in cardiology for the program, who led the study.

"It might be a surprise, because coffee does give some people the jitters," Klatsky said. "And I don't think we're ready to tell people they should drink coffee to prevent heart rhythm problems."

The study didn't offer any reason why coffee might reduce heart rhythm problems, Klatsky said. "It could be that coffee drinkers have better diets or exercise more. We can't say for sure that it might not be related to minor heart rhythm problems that don't require hospitalization."

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