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Should daily coffee intake be part of a healthy diet?

11th April 2022

Studies have shown that daily coffee intake is associated with cardiovascular benefits such as a lower risk of developing CVD and arrhythmias

Coffee intake (whether ground or instant) of at least 2 – 3 cups per day has been found to be associated with significant reductions in the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), arrhythmias, as well as cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. This is according to the findings of three studies analysing data held within the UK Biobank.

Although coffee contains caffeine, it is also a rich source of phenolic compounds including chlorogenic acids which contribute to coffee’s antioxidant activity. Moreover, coffee intake at midlife has been associated with a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease compared with those drinking no or only little coffee. However, the cardiovascular benefits from drinking coffee are less clear with one study finding that in men, the risk of nonfatal myocardial infarction was not associated with coffee drinking. In contrast, a large prospective study observed that coffee consumption was inversely associated with total and cause-specific mortality.

Due to these conflicting results, three studies presented at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Session have examined cardiovascular and mortality benefits disease associated with coffee intake.

In the first study, effects of habitual coffee consumption on incident cardiovascular disease, arrhythmia, and mortality: findings from UK BIOBANK, researchers from the University of Melbourne, Australia, included data from 382,535 individuals with a mean age of 57 years (52% female) and assessed the effect of coffee intake over a 10-year period. The results showed that a coffee intake of 2 – 3 cups/day was significantly associated (for all associations, p < 0.01) with the lowest risk for developing CVD (Hazard ratio, HR = 0.91, 95% CI 0.88 – 0.94), coronary heart disease (HR = 0.90), heart failure (HR = 0.85) and all-cause mortality (HR = 0.86). They found a U-shaped relationship between higher coffee intake and incident arrhythmia which was also lowest at 2 – 3 cups/day (HR = 0.92).

In the second study, regular coffee intake is associated with improved mortality in prevalent cardiovascular disease, the Australian team focused on the effect of coffee in patients with existing cardiovascular disease. With a population of 502,543 individuals, again followed for 10 years, CVD was subsequently diagnosed in 342,279 participants, of whom, 19.6% died. The team found that coffee intake was safe at all levels and that survival was improved again at 2 – 3 cups/day (HR = 0.92, 95% CI 0.86 – 0.99, p = 0.03). Among 24,111 participants diagnosed with an arrhythmia, drinking only one cup of coffee per day was associated with the lowest mortality risk (HR = 0.85) and specifically in those with atrial fibrillation or flutter, one cup of coffee per day was associated with improved survival (HR = 0.82, p < 0.01).

In the third study, ground, instant or decaffeinated coffee? Impact of different coffee subtypes on incident arrhythmia, cardiovascular disease and mortality, the team wondered if there were any differential cardiovascular benefits depending on how the coffee was prepared. Overall, they found that drinking between 1 and 5 cups of coffee per day were associated with a reduced risk of arrhythmia, CVD, CHD, heart failure and stroke. The greatest reduction in risk for CVD was seen with drinking 2 – 3 cups/day of ground coffee (HR = 0.83, 95% CI 0.79 – 0.87) but there was still a significant, albeit smaller, reduction in risk from consuming instant coffee (HR = 0.91, 95% CI 0.88 – 0.95).

Finally, in the third study, the authors showed that drinking 2 – 3 cups/day of decaffeinated coffee was associated with a mortality benefit (HR = 0.85, 95% CI 0.80 – 0.91, p < 0.01), leading the authors to conclude that non-caffeine compounds within coffee are likely to be important factors associated with greater survival among coffee drinkers.

Given these findings, the authors suggested that coffee intake should be considered as part of a healthy diet.