Drinking coffee is a daily ritual for many people around the world. It’s a catalyst for productivity, a relaxing ritual, and a core part of modern culture. Coffee has come a long way in the last ten years. It’s no longer just a tarry substance with a musty flavor but now comes in blends or single origins with various flavors and strengths.
There’s something for everyone in the coffee department. Studies even show drinking coffee has health benefits. Research links sipping coffee with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, gallstones, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.
As delightful as a beverage coffee is, you might wonder whether it’s safe to drink if you have hypertension. It’s a controversial topic. Does coffee cause a rise in blood pressure?
The Impact of Coffee on Blood Pressure
Studies have investigated how coffee affects blood pressure. The results from some of these studies have caused confusion for the American coffee drinking public and even some healthcare providers. Some doctors tell people to limit the amount of coffee they drink if they have high blood pressure. The question is whether coffee is harmful to people with hypertension.
Coffee is one of the most popular beverages people drink to stay awake. No wonder! It’s a stimulant to the central nervous system. That’s why people feel more awake, motivated, and focused when they drink it.
Your nervous system has two components: the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The parasympathetic system tells your nervous system to relax or “chill.” The sympathetic component is the “fight or flight” portion that gives you the energy and motivation to either fight or flee from a predator. Coffee activates the latter.
One downside to activating the “fight or flight” component of the nervous system is that it increases your heart rate and causes a temporary rise in blood pressure. Studies suggest if you aren’t accustomed to drinking caffeinated beverages, you can experience a rise in blood pressure after drinking coffee. One study found a blood pressure rise of 8 mm Hg systolic, the upper number, and 6 mm Hg diastolic, the lower number. This rise in blood pressure can occur even if you don’t have hypertension.
Your Body Adapts to the Effects of Coffee and Caffeine
Here’s the kicker. Once you start consuming caffeine regularly, you’re less likely to have a rise in blood pressure after consuming coffee or other caffeinated beverages. Your body adapts to the effects of caffeine when you drink it regularly, and the effects of the caffeine aren’t as pronounced unless you increase your caffeine consumption. That’s why you feel less alert after a few weeks of drinking coffee daily than when you first started.
Is It Safe to Drink Coffee if You Have Hypertension?
Talk to your physician about how much caffeine you can consume if you have hypertension. Their recommendations will vary depending on how well your blood pressure is controlled, how high it is, and whether you have heart disease. They may also recommend limiting the amount you drink. But there are reasons to be cautious with caffeine if you have hypertension.
Some studies show that drinking lots of caffeinated coffee can raise stress hormones. Two of these stress hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol, can trigger a rise in blood pressure. Adrenalin directly increases blood pressure, while cortisol causes your body to retain more sodium and fluid, leading to a rise in blood pressure. Plus, some people metabolize caffeine slowly. Research shows slow metabolizers are more likely to have side effects, like heart rhythm irregularities and a significant rise in blood pressure.
Speaking of slow metabolism of caffeine, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association observed 4,000 people and their coffee drinking habits. The study showed that those who metabolized caffeine slowly had a 36% higher risk of heart attack if they drank more than 2 cups of coffee per day, and a 64% greater risk of death if they drank four or more cups each day.
How do you know if you metabolize caffeine at a snail’s pace? You can get a blood test that tells you. People who are slow caffeine metabolizers have a genetic variant of an enzyme that breaks down caffeine. If you have this variant, caffeine stays in your system longer.
Does Drinking Caffeinated Coffee Increase the Risk of Developing Hypertension?
One of the strongest risk factors for hypertension is having a family history of the disease. Drinking coffee doesn’t greatly increase the risk of developing hypertension. One study followed 1017 male medical students for 33 years. They found that drinking coffee causes a mild, temporary rise in blood pressure, but only has a small effect on the risk of developing hypertension.
Still, if you have borderline high blood pressure or a family history of hypertension, it’s best to consume caffeine only in moderation or switch to decaf. If you’re unsure how caffeine affects your blood pressure, check your blood pressure. Then drink a cup of coffee and recheck it at 30 and 90 minutes. If you get a substantial rise, be cautious with caffeine. Also, save the readings and show them to your physician.
The Bottom Line
Drinking coffee can cause a transient rise in blood pressure, but doesn’t seem to greatly increase the risk of developing hypertension. Talk to your physician about how much coffee they recommend you drink.
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