This may be music to your sleep-deprived ears: new research convincingly shows that, for most people, enjoying coffee on a regular basis may actually be good for your heart. This is one of the reasons why the Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that three to five 8-ounce cups a day of plain, black coffee can be part of a healthy diet. (Related: 8 Awesome Benefits of Drinking Coffee, According to Dietitians.)
What we crave in our morning cup of joe is the caffeine it provides. Caffeine is the most commonly consumed natural stimulant in the world. Caffeine gets you hooked because it crosses the blood-brain barrier and stimulates the central nervous system in a way that boosts energy, metabolism and stamina, alertness, and improves your mood. Too much, however, can lead to an upset stomach, may make you feel jittery, anxious, disrupts sleep, and may even trigger a migraine.
Even though coffee is rich in hundreds of beneficial bioactive compounds, including antioxidants, most researchers believe that the heart-health benefits associated with coffee consumption are linked, in part, to caffeine. The evidence to support this belief is that studies show that decaf coffee—which also contains the antioxidants of caffeinated coffee—doesn’t provide the same cardiovascular benefits as high-octane coffee. Keep reading to learn more about how drinking caffeinated coffee affects your heart health, and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
In a major new meta-analysis of three, large human trials reported in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation: Heart Failure, researchers reported that coffee consumption was inversely associated with heart failure. In other words: Those who reported drinking more coffee had the least risk for heart failure. In fact, data from the Framingham Heart Study found a 5%-12% reduction in risk of heart failure per cup of coffee, compared to participants who did not drink coffee.
The same effect was not found among those who reported drinking decaf, which leads the authors to infer that caffeine is responsible, in part, for the heart-health benefits. According to the lead researcher, Dr. David Kao of the University of Colorado Anshutz Medical School, stated in a news release: “Coffee and caffeine are often considered by the general population to be ‘bad’ for the heart because people associate them with palpitations, high blood pressure,” he said. “The consistent relationship between increasing caffeine consumption and decreasing heart failure risk turns that assumption on its head.”
RELATED: Sign up for our newsletter to get daily recipes and food news in your inbox!
As a natural plant-based beverage, coffee is rich in beneficial antioxidants. It’s one of the major sources of antioxidants in U.S. diets. Some of the main antioxidants in coffee include polyphenols. Numerous studies show that polyphenols act as antioxidants to help tamp down systemic inflammation and neutralize free radicals to help improve heart health. Polyphenols may offer protection by improving blood vessel function, boosting good cholesterol, increasing nitric oxide availability to vessels, lowering bad cholesterol, and reducing inflammation. Read on: Instant Ways to Reduce Your Inflammation, According to a Doctor.
Coffee increases heart rate and blood pressure—temporarily. What’s more, among those who are habituated to caffeine, the increase in systolic and diastolic blood pressure is lower than those who are not habituated to coffee. Scientists advise that if you have normal blood pressure and no predisposition for hypertension, the transient increase in blood pressure from drinking coffee is little cause for concern. However, anyone with hypertension or with a strong history of hypertension should discuss coffee consumption with their medical professional.
Another systematic review of 53 studies evaluating long-term coffee consumption and cardiovascular disease reported in the journal Circulation found that those who drank three to five cups of coffee per day experienced more than a 10% decrease in risk for cardiovascular disease compared to those who reported drinking none, one to two cups of coffee per day or more than six cups per day. Heavy coffee drinkers (over siz cups per day) may have other diet and lifestyle factors that interfered with the benefits of coffee.
The bottom line is that coffee consumption can be good for most people’s heart health. Just avoid loading it up with added sugars, full-fat milk or other calorie-rich add-ins. The response to coffee is highly individualized, so there is no recommended amount that works for everyone. And, for those who are sensitive to caffeine, they should not take up drinking coffee or upping their coffee consumption in order to obtain heart health benefits. Pregnant women and those with hypertension should also check with their healthcare professional for specific individualized advice regarding coffee and caffeine.
Eating a diet rich in produce, whole grains, and lower in added sugars, saturated fat and getting exercise daily is always going to be a better way to improve your heart’s overall health rather than ordering another cup of joe at your local coffee shop. According to Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor of nutrition at the Penn State University as told to the American Heart Association, “Enjoy coffee in moderation as part of an overall heart-healthy dietary pattern that meets recommendations for fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and non-fat dairy products, and that also is low in sodium, saturated fat and added sugars.” For more, check out 7 Things You Should Never Add to Your Coffee.