For years, patients diagnosed with cardiovascular disease (CVD) have been advised to steer clear of coffee as caffeine was associated with negative effects for those with heart disease. However, in 2021 the European Society of Cardiology took a different stance with their guidelines, stating that coffee intake is in fact, to some extent, beneficial in combating CVD. So, what’s changed?
When we think of coffee, for many of us the first thing that comes to mind is caffeine. We rely on it to energise us throughout the day, to improve our concentration and increase our productivity. However, what we tend to forget is that aside from caffeine there are hundreds of compounds present in coffee, including many antioxidants. Antioxidants are crucial for the body to reduce oxidative stress, which is associated with tissue and DNA damage as well as the development of many diseases including cancer, atherosclerosis, and diabetes. An accumulation of oxidative stress in the cardiovascular system over time results in increased inflammation and build-up of LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol, which explains the onset of atherosclerosis and consequent development of various forms of heart disease . Coffee also contains a variety of nutrients including vitamin B (1,2,3 and 5) and folate - both promoting healthy functioning of the immune and nervous systems. Although these are not found in large quantities, the consumption of multiple cups of coffee a day, a common habit especially in western culture, can make up the recommended daily intake of these micronutrients .
However, coffee consumption also has some negative effects on us that should be acknowledged. For example, many coffee drinkers experience symptoms such as insomnia and anxiety at the hands of the highly-caffeinated contents. A large study was conducted this year analysing data from the UK Biobank, which contains information on the health of almost half a million individuals as well as data on their diets and lifestyle, including reported coffee consumption. The good news we can take from this is that while most negative effects are attributed to the presence of caffeine, the observed benefits of coffee consumption did not significantly differ between decaffeinated and caffeinated coffee and both coffee types had the same effect of lowering CVD and mortality rates. Caffeinated coffee only displayed a more beneficial outcome in reducing arrhythmia. According to the study, just like the presence of caffeine, the choice between ground and instant coffee did not have any impact on the extent of health benefits .
The studies conducted so far are mostly observational and require further investigation into the hundreds of compounds potentially responsible for the noted health benefits. Additionally, due to the nature of the study, it can be argued that this is a simple case of correlation and not causation. Nevertheless, considering the large sample size used to collect the UK Biobank data (449,563 people were studied)  and what is known about the composition of coffee, we can agree that non-excessive coffee consumption has the potential to improve individuals’ health and add at least a few years onto their lives - so overall, not much to complain about!
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2. Svilaas A, Sakhi AK, Andersen LF, Svilaas T, Ström EC, Jacobs DR Jr, Ose L, Blomhoff R. Intakes of antioxidants in coffee, wine, and vegetables are correlated with plasma carotenoids in humans. J Nutr. 2004 Mar;134(3):562-7. doi: 10.1093/jn/134.3.562. PMID: 14988447.3. Chieng, David et al. “The Impact of Coffee Subtypes on Incident Cardiovascular Disease, Arrhythmias, and Mortality: Long-Term Outcomes from the UK Biobank.” European journal of preventive cardiology (2022): n. pag. Web.