At one time doctors told patients at risk for heart disease to reduce the amount of caffeinated coffee they drank – but times have changed. Now we know that sipping a hot cup of coffee may offer health benefits including a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, prostate cancer, gall bladder disease, depression, and, possibly Alzheimer’s disease. Now a new study shows drinking coffee may be good for your heart and blood vessels as well.
Coffee – Good for Your Heart and Blood Vessels?
Can coffee improve blood vessel health? Japanese researchers made an interesting discovery. They asked healthy, young adults who weren’t regular coffee drinkers to drink a cup of coffee, either caffeinated or decaf. After doing so, they measured the amount of blood flow to the blood vessels in their fingers. What they found were participants that drank caffeinated coffee showed a significant improvement in blood flow to the small vessels in their fingers. In fact, blood flow increased by a third.
Why might this be? Based on this small study, researchers speculate that caffeinated coffee improves endothelial function, the ability of blood vessels to expand and allow more blood flow. Healthy endothelial function has been linked with a lower risk for heart disease. In fact, changes in endothelial function typically precede the development of coronary artery disease. Maintaining healthy endothelial function may be another way to lower your risk for heart disease, much like maintaining healthy lipid levels and normal blood pressure.
How Does Drinking Coffee Affect Other Risk Factors for Heart Disease?
Endothelial function is important for a healthy heart, but how does drinking caffeinated coffee affect other risk factors for heart disease? You might expect that caffeinated coffee would cause a rise in blood pressure. It CAN cause a temporary blood pressure increase, but there are studies suggesting it may also lower it – by improving endothelial function. One study showed older people who drank one to two cups of coffee daily had better blood vessel elasticity, consistent with improved endothelial function. Better endothelial function and blood vessel elasticity is positive because it helps to lower blood pressure.
One downside to drinking lots of coffee is some studies show it can raise LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This is mostly a problem in people who drink unfiltered coffee, like Turkish coffee or coffee made with a French press. Unfiltered coffee contains compounds called diterpenes that adversely affect lipid levels, causing LDL-cholesterol to rise. Drinking filtered coffee doesn’t seem to have the same effect. If you’re concerned about diterpenes, don’t drink Turkish coffee or Scandinavian boiled coffee. One study showed it had the highest amount of diterpenes. Espresso coffee had moderate amounts while drip and instant coffee had only small amounts.
Research also suggests that inflammation is an underlying cause of heart disease. A meta-analysis looking at the effect of coffee consumption on markers for inflammation showed drinking even moderate amounts of coffee (1 to 2 cups a day) caused an increase in inflammatory markers.
Coffee and Heart Disease Risk: Is It a Positive or Negative?
Coffee seems to improve endothelial function but increase inflammation. If you drink unfiltered coffee, it may also adversely affect your lipid levels. So is coffee heart healthy or not? One study in older people showed those who consumed more caffeinated beverages had a lower risk for coronary heart disease relative to those who drank the least. Based on this study, the positives seem to outweigh the negatives. Plus, coffee is a rich source of antioxidants that should have some protective effect.
Most research shows drinking coffee doesn’t increase the risk for coronary artery disease and some show it has a slight protective effect. There is a sub-group of people who metabolize caffeine more slowly who may be at higher risk for heart disease when they consume lots of caffeine, but for the average person who enjoys filtered coffee in moderation, it doesn’t seem to significantly raise heart disease risk.
The Bottom Line?
Enjoy coffee in moderation but avoid drinking unfiltered coffee due to the diterpenes it contains – and don’t turn a healthy cup of coffee into a high-calorie, sugary drink by adding lots of sugar and whipped cream. Enjoy it in its natural state.
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