By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Ever since I became a physician almost forty years ago, patients have always asked me whether they should drink coffee or not. Is it bad for my heart? they wanted to know…
As you likely know, tea has been a darling of the health world and coffee has had a bad reputation when it comes to heart health. I’ve followed the research and had a lot of feedback from my patients. Science has now become more bullish on java. The coffee bean has caught up with the tea leaf and some experts believe it has even surpassed it.
Is Coffee Bad for your Health?
Fact: As far as the cardiovascular system is concerned, many researchers think that coffee is actually harmless.
What to Do: Drinking a cup or two a day is OK, preferably in the morning. Don’t sip throughout the day though to avoid possible stimulating effects. Be sure to skip the sugar or artificial sweetener.
Interest in the links between coffee and health is not new. In 17th-century Europe, coffee was thought to aid digestion and gout but cause impotence − not a particularly good tit-for-tat. And not true, in any case.
In recent years, the coffee-health question has focused on cardiovascular effects, and the findings have been quite positive. Here are some examples:
- A link between coffee drinking and blood pressure was first reported more than 75 years ago, but whether coffee intake is associated with elevated blood pressure risk has remained controversial. A 2011 Michigan State University analysis of research data from 6 large previous studies involving 172,000 participants found that habitual coffee consumption of more than 3 cups a day was not associated with an increased risk of hypertension. The data covered up to 33 years of follow-up.
- A 2012 Korean meta-analysis of 9 previous studies showed a preventive effect for 4 cups of coffee against stroke.
- A 2009 Chinese meta-analysis of coffee consumption and coronary heart disease considered data from 21 English-language studies from 1966 to 2008 involving more than 400,000 participants. The results indicated that coffee intake doesn’t increase the long-term risk of arterial disease, and, in fact, moderate consumption, described as 1-3 cups in the U.S. and 3-4 cups in Europe, was associated with a lower risk for women.
- A 2008 Harvard analysis of two study databases covering approximately 20 years and involving 42,000 men and 86,000 women turned up no evidence of increased mortality from coffee consumption.
- A 2013 Spanish review of previous studies on coffee’s impact on health produced evidence that contrary to previous beliefs, the various forms of arterial cardiovascular disease seem unaffected by coffee intake. Coffee is associated with a reduction in the incidence of diabetes and liver disease and protection seems to exist also for Parkinson’s disease. Its effect on cancer risk depends on the tissue concerned, although it appears to favor risk reduction.
The benign or even positive results for coffee are likely linked to the natural antioxidant compounds present in coffee. In 2005, a widely publicized study concluded that a single cup of coffee packs a whopping 1,300 mg of such beneficial ingredients.
Moreover, researchers have recently learned that during the roasting process, coffee bean components undergo structural changes leading to the formation of melanoidins, nitrogenous and brown-colored compounds. Their health implications are of great interest. In fact, several biological activities, such as antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antihypertensive, have been attributed to them.
While these coffee payloads appear to offer varying risk reduction for various diseases, and an emerging consensus that coffee is not harmful, for some people the caffeine in coffee can be a definite offsetting problem, causing jitters and even racing hearts. Additionally, drinking about 4 cups of coffee a day is, for reasons researchers have been unable to explain thus far, associated with an increased risk of non-cardiovascular mortality, especially in people younger than 55.
The Sinatra Solution
I always told my coffee-loving patients to keep their intake down to a cup or two a day, and preferably in the morning. I discouraged patients from sipping coffee throughout the day because additional coffee can often produce a stimulating effect and act as a diuretic, washing out vital nutrients like magnesium and B vitamins. Some people react strongly to just a minimum amount of coffee. I have seen patients with hypertension and irregularly fast heartbeat related to drinking just two or three cups a day.
If you are a coffee fan, try to choose organic. I am concerned about pesticide and herbicide content of non-organic brew.
Keep in mind also that coffee is not a substitute for fruit and vegetables. Don’t load up on coffee in an attempt to consume more antioxidants. For that, you need fresh, organic produce, with their unique healthy payloads of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber.
Lastly, do not heap teaspoons of sugar or sugar substitute into your coffee. Sugar is one of my top villains in the body and artificial sweeteners are no better: the body still releases insulin in response to them, which can cause more sugar cravings. Many people gain weight when substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar because the body doesn’t understand the difference. Artificial substitutes are sweeter, to boot, potentially resulting in more of a “sweet tooth.”
Q & A
Q: Can I get the same health benefits with decaf coffee?
Yes and no. The antioxidant benefit is the same with decaf coffee. However, unless you get coffee that was decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Process, you may be exposed to chemicals that are often used in the conventional decaffeination process.
About ways to consume more antioxidants…
Like the idea of getting your antioxidants in a glass? In this video, my son, Step, and I show you how to make a Sinatra-Smart Smoothie. It’s packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, raw enzymes and fiber – I wholeheartedly recommend a glass a day to help prevent degenerative diseases!
- Zhang Z, et al. Habitual coffee consumption and risk of hypertension: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective observational studies. Am J Clin Nutr, 2011;93(6):1212-19.
- Kim B, et al. Coffee consumption and stroke risk: A meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. Korean J Fam Med, 2012;33(6):356–65.
- Wu JN, et al. Coffee consumption and risk of coronary heart diseases: A meta-analysis of 21 prospective cohort studies. Int J Cardiol, 2009;137(3):216-25.
- Lopez-Garcia E, et al. The relationship of coffee consumption with mortality. Ann Intern Med, 2008;148(12):904-14.
- Moreira AS, et al. Coffee melanoidins: structures, mechanisms of formation and potential health impacts. Food Funct,2012;3(9):903-15.
- Cano-Marquina A, et al. The impact of coffee on health. Maturitas, 2013;75(1):7-21.
© 2013 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.