4 Ways Medical Research Shows Coffee Really Might Be Good for Your Heart
A little validation for something you already love: Some recent research suggests coffee may support your cardiovascular wellness for a longer, healthier life. Plus, four tips to pour your healthiest cup.
Is coffee really good for your heart?
Considering our collective craze for coffee, any hint of a potential health benefit from drinking it spreads like a splash of cream in a freshly poured mug. It’s reported 58 percent of Americans consider coffee to be a vital ritual. Turns out, just as it perks up your day, your brew might also be giving your heart health a lift.
If you’ve been a little confused up to now about the science between coffee and cardiovascular health, that’s understandable. In recent years, some popular wisdom suggested coffee increases blood pressure, which is known to slowly damage blood vessels (including those in the heart). That can be true, so it’s wise not to overdo it. But, on the other hand, regular coffee drinking has also been linked to a lower risk of heart failure and other possible advantages.
Cardiologists spoke with The Healthy to explore whether coffee can be good for you, and how to make your brew as beneficial as possible. Grab your mug and keep reading…
(Also check out 16 Things Doctors Eat for Breakfast Every Day.)
How does coffee affect the heart?
Cardiologist Kunal Karmali, MD, of Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital, says it’s important to think critically regarding what you hear about coffee and heart health. “We often confuse associations for causation,” Karmali says.
In other words, just because some research might suggest coffee drinkers may be at lower risk for cardiovascular events than non-coffee drinkers, doesn’t mean coffee absolutely deserves the credit for that effect. Maybe drinking coffee helps you rise earlier so you can take advantage of the health benefits of meditation, or perhaps that delicious dark roast feels like a reward after your morning walk (because yes, walking really is great exercise). Your daily routine is probably composed of a few habits, so Karmali warns against believing that a single ingredient will make, or break, your heart health.
Adds Seamus Whelton, MD, MPH, cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at John Hopkins Medicine, it’s important to keep in mind that drinking coffee is not a definite means of preventing a heart attack. Also—if you have, or think you may have—any kind of heart-related condition, it’s important to discuss your dietary habits, and other aspects of your routine, with your doctor.
With all that in mind, these two cardiologists talked with The Healthy to explore the connection between coffee and the heart. Also, check out 11 Potassium-Rich Foods for a Healthy Heart, From Nutrition Experts.
Coffee is linked to a lower risk of heart failure
Perhaps the most exciting study on coffee’s benefits for cardiovascular health has to do with caffeine’s potentially protective influence against untimely death. “Consuming coffee in moderation has been associated with a reduced risk of heart failure,” says Whelton.
In February 2021, the cardiovascular journal Circulation (published by the American Heart Association) included a research analysis of three well-known past studies. Looking at the effect of marital status, coffee consumption, red meat consumption, and whole milk consumption, the research team discovered a link between coffee consumption and reduced risk of heart failure and stroke later in life.
Coffee is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
Consuming coffee in moderation has been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, according to Whelton.
A 2016 research review published in the European Journal of Nutrition found “mounting evidence” that drinking three to four cups of coffee per day could help prevent type 2 diabetes. Since unstable blood sugar can lead to heart disease, this particular research suggests it may be OK to top up your cup of joe for the sake of heart health.
Coffee might decrease your risk of heart arrhythmia
A 2018 research review in the journal JACC: Electrophysiology suggested that consuming up to 300 milligrams of caffeine each day might help protect against heart rhythm disorders. More recent research published in JAMA Internal Medicine linked a daily cup of coffee with a three percent lower risk of developing arrhythmia.
While this research on coffee and heart health is promising, Karmali’s reminder remains: “Association is not causation. Unless you understand why you’re seeing what you’re seeing, it’s hard to recommend (drinking more coffee).”
If coffee makes you happier, your heart might be healthier
Karmali suggests that for a relatively health individual, there are far worse dietary habits than drinking a cup of coffee. “Historically, the thought has always been that coffee is harmful to cardiovascular health, but I don’t think there’s evidence of that,” he says.
Even better: if your daily coffee habit gives you something to look forward to, makes your routine feel cozier, or otherwise makes you feel good—well, that may a boost for your heart health too. Longitudinal research that appeared in a 2010 issue of the European Heart Journal found that individuals who scored highly on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, a tool used to identify occurrence of depression, saw a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease over the following 10 years than those who scored low.
Of course, clinical depression isn’t simply cured with a cup of coffee. What this research does suggest is that if enjoying coffee is part of what makes your day great, the compounding effects could be beneficial for your ticker too.
Can you still drink coffee if you have heart problems?
Experts say yes—”As long as it’s a moderate ingestion,” says Karmali.
Four ways to get heart-healthy coffee:
Monitor the amount. “It is important to pay attention to not only the number of cups of coffee you drink per day, but also the portion,” says Whelton. “Some popular coffee shops have sizes with 24 or more ounces of coffee per serving, which is roughly equivalent to four cups of coffee.” Some recent research has suggested enjoying coffee should be kept to a maximum of five to six cups a day.
Drink filtered coffee. Though the healthiest cup of coffee might not be the same for everyone, Whelton says filtered coffee is best for heart health. A 2020 study published in the journal Foods found that filtered coffee is the healthiest brewing method—particularly when filtered through an Aeropress.
Minimize additives. That syrupy white mocha from Starbucks? It’s definitely not as good for your heart as a simple mug of black coffee. Both cardiologists recommend holding back on cream and sweeteners, which could ultimately be more detrimental to your heart than caffeine.
- Switch to decaf or “half-calf.” For people who experience heart palpitations after ingesting caffeine, you may want to try limiting or eliminating coffee. Or, as long as you get the go-ahead from your cardiologist or primary care provider and are staying consistent with any heart medications, Karmali says it’s OK to enjoy a small amount of coffee or switch to decaf, which does still contain some caffeine. (Some coffee lovers even combine decaf and regular just to be extra mindful of caffeine consumption.)
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- Statista: "U.S. Coffee Market: Statistics and Facts"
- Foods: "Mineral Composition and Antioxidant Potential of Coffee Beverages Depending on the Brewing Method"
- Circulation: "Association Between Coffee Intake and Incident Heart Failure Risk"
- European Journal of Nutrition: "Coffee consumption, obesity and type 2 diabetes: a mini-review"
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Diabetes, Heart Disease, & Stroke"
- JAMA Internal Medicine: "Coffee Consumption and Incident Tachyarrhythmias Reported Behavior, Mendelian Randomization, and Their Interactions"
- JACC Clinical Electrophysiology: "Caffeine and Arrhythmias: Time to Grind the Data"
- European Heart Journal: "Don't worry, be happy: positive affect and reduced 10-year incident coronary heart disease: the Canadian Nova Scotia Health Survey"
- Kunal Karmali, MD, cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital
- Seamus Whelton, MD, MPH, cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at John Hopkins Medicin