We have all seen the mugs with cute saying like, “But first, coffee,” or “Coffee, Because Adulting Is Hard.” Millions of Americans start their day with a hot cup of Joe and a smile on their face. Some keep it up all day, fueling their bodies with caffeine. But is this smart? We have been warned that too much coffee could cause arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats. A new study says there’s no need to unplug the Keurig after all: Coffee isn’t going to hurt your heart.
The Washington Post has reported on a study out of the University of California in San Francisco that looked at more than 380,000 individuals and analyzed their coffee drinking habits. It may come as a surprise, but the researchers found no correlation between coffee consumption and an increased risk of arrhythmias, and no effect on the coffee drinker’s ability to metabolize coffee.
Many coffee drinkers will delight in the analysis that also found that those who drank more coffee were at a potentially lower risk of blood clots, stroke, and heart failure due to Atrial Fibrillation a form of arrhythmias. The CDC stated that by 2030, as many as 12 million people in the United States will have AFib. In 2018, AFib caused more than 25,000 deaths in Americans. Knowing that coffee consumption will not increase these statistics brings some relief to those who rev up with a daily dose of caffeine.
Gregory Marcus, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at UCSF, and lead author of the study, told the Washington Post that he thinks the results “Are sufficiently robust so as to demonstrate that blanket prohibition against coffee or caffeine among arrhythmia patients or those worried about arrhythmia are probably not appropriate.”
Marcus and his team studied data from the UK Biobank between 2006 and 2018 and made several analyses. First, they took a look at self-reported drinking habits and found that people who drank more coffee were less likely to develop irregular heartbeats. As a matter of fact, each cup of coffee was associated with 3% lower risk of arrhythmia. This was found after taking into consideration several factors, including things like alcohol use, smoking, diseases and physical activity that could cause heart palpitations.
The researchers used a method known as Mendelian randomization. This type of report does not rely on self-reporting, which they noted could be unreliable. Instead they were able to look at genetic variants that can influence caffeine metabolism. Interestingly, those who metabolize caffeine faster, drink more coffee. But there was no relationship found between genetic differences and more risk for arrhythmia.
“The data for coffee consumption and its link with arrhythmias has had mixed results,” Fred Kusumoto, an electrophysiologist and the director of the Heart Rhythm Services at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL told the Post. “But generally, most have suggested that either there is no relationship or perhaps maybe an improvement with arrhythmias associated with coffee consumption.”
He warned that while this data did show a positive correlation between coffee consumption and arrhythmias, he would not start telling people to start drinking coffee for the sole purpose of decreasing their risk of irregular heartbeat. While the study involved many participants and thorough research, there is still a chance for bias, according to Daniel Cantillon, the associate section head of cardiac electrophysiology and pacing at the Cleveland Clinic who was not involved in the coffee research. The Mendelian method is good, but it isn’t perfect.
He suggested to the Post that ideally not only would the trial be randomized, it would also include groups drinking caffeine and those taking a placebo. That way, the effect of arrhythmias could be measured over a longer period of time.
Is the science perfect? No. Should you go crazy with coffee as a preventative measure? No. But if you love the taste of your morning brew, it’s not necessary to give it up — at least not for the sake of your heart health. You may end up with some potential benefits by drinking your coffee, more than just a decrease in risk for AFib.
“If you enjoy the taste, the flavor and the immediate effects on your concentration of drinking coffee, this study and other studies like it seem to suggest that there’s no cardiovascular penalty associated with drinking coffee,” Cantillon said.
We have long known that coffee can have some rewards, including increasing physical performance and being a fat burner, but there are potentially greater effects. Coffee can decrease your risks of other diseases such as type 2 diabetes, alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and it can potentially lower your risk of parkinson’s, according to Healthline. It is also a natural antioxidant. And we all know that it can help put a little pep in our step.
So hit your favorite coffee shop in the morning for a quick latte and maybe a sweet treat. You deserve it. And who knows? Your heart just may thank you for it.