Drinking 3 cups of coffee daily slashes heart attack, stroke risk by a third — but don’t switch to decaf

DALLAS, Texas — There’s good news for people who love to start their day with a hot cup of coffee. New research from the American Heart Association finds drinking more coffee every day can dramatically cut a person’s risk for heart failure. In fact, three cups of coffee a day can slash the risks for heart attack or stroke by a third.

Coffee is rich in antioxidants and beneficial plant chemicals that dampen inflammation, researchers say. Their findings revealed caffeinated coffee reduces the risk of heart failure by up to 12 percent per cup. The review looked at three major heart disease studies, comparing participants who drank one, two, or more than three cups a day with peers who never touched the stuff.

The link between coffee and health has been debated for years. Past studies have even claimed the “pick-me-up” drink damages the heart by raising blood pressure and cholesterol.

“The association between caffeine and heart failure risk reduction was surprising,” says senior author Dr. David Kao from the University of Colorado in a media 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, etc. The consistent relationship between increasing caffeine consumption and decreasing heart failure risk turns that assumption on its head.”

More coffee is better for the heart

The findings, published in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure, are based on more than 21,000 U.S. adults who researchers followed for at least ten years. Kao’s team relied on machine learning systems to analyze participants in the Framingham Heart Study. Residents of this Massachusetts town have had their health tracked for decades.

Study authors then compared those calculations to data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study and the Cardiovascular Health Study. In all three, heart failure rates fell among people who reported drinking one or more cups of caffeinated coffee daily.

In the Framingham and Cardiovascular reports, heart failure risk over the course of decades fell by five to 12 percent per cup per day. The Atherosclerosis study reveals drinking more than two cups a day lowers heart failure risk by about 30 percent. That study did not identify any added protection from drinking only one cup however.

Switching to decaf could be a fatal decision

On the other hand, researchers find decaffeinated coffee seems to have the opposite effect on heart health.

It significantly increases the risk of heart failure – or offered no protection – according to the Framingham and Cardiovascular studies. Further investigations reveal caffeine consumption from any source appears to hold the key. The stimulant is at least part of the reason for the apparent boost to the heart from drinking more coffee.

“However, there is not yet enough clear evidence to recommend increasing coffee consumption to decrease risk of heart disease with the same strength and certainty as stopping smoking, losing weight or exercising,” Dr. Kao explains.

Coronary artery disease, heart failure, and stroke are among the top causes of death in the United States.

“While smoking, age and high blood pressure are among the most well-known heart disease risk factors, unidentified risk factors for heart disease remain,” the researcher adds.

So how much coffee is the right amount?

Across the three studies, participants self-reported their coffee consumption and with no standard unit of measure. Government guidelines, however, suggest three to five eight-ounce cups of plain black coffee can be part of a healthy diet.

Coffee also has a connection to fighting cancer, type 2 diabetes, depression, and neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. While that may sound great, the AHA warns that not all coffees are created equal. Popular coffee-based drinks such as lattes and macchiatos are often high in calories, added sugar, and fat — making black coffee the safest choice for the heart.

Excessive caffeine consumption can be dangerous too. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids generally avoid beverages containing it.

“It is intriguing that these three studies suggest that drinking coffee is associated with a decreased risk of heart failure and that coffee can be part of a healthy dietary pattern if consumed plain, without added sugar and high fat dairy products such as cream,” says Professor Penny Kris-Etherton from Penn State University.

“The bottom line: enjoy coffee in moderation as part of an overall heart-healthy dietary pattern that meets recommendations for fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat/non-fat dairy products, and that also is low in sodium, saturated fat and added sugars. Also, it is important to be mindful that caffeine is a stimulant and consuming too much may be problematic – causing jitteriness and sleep problems.”

“The risks and benefits of drinking coffee have been topics of ongoing scientific interest due to the popularity and frequency of consumption worldwide,” adds Prof. Linda Van Horn of Northwestern University. “Studies reporting associations with outcomes remain relatively limited due to inconsistencies in diet assessment and analytical methodologies, as well as inherent problems with self-reported dietary intake.”

SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributes to this report.