The skeptical cardiologist admits to being a coffee snob and addict. For the last 10 years, I’ve been using the Chemex system to brew my morning cup of Java.
Once I consistently partook of Chemex pour-over coffee made from freshly ground, recently (lightly) roasted, quality coffee beans it was hard for me to enjoy any other kind. I find Starbucks coffee particularly loathsome.
Although numerous studies have established that coffee consumption is safe (assuming you are not adding titanium dioxide to your cup), the belief that it is bad for you persists in the majority of patients that I see.
Since today is National Coffee Day let me take this opportunity to reassure my patients and readers who consume the good brew that they are not harming their hearts.
While it is possible to adulterate coffee into an unhealthy concoction (see my post on “How Starbucks Is Making Heart Healthy Coffee Into a Stealth Dessert”) overall coffee is heart-healthy.
In fact, a recent study (Coffee Consumption and Coronary Artery Calcium Score: Cross‐Sectional Results of ELSA‐Brasil (Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health)) showed that coffee consumption is associated with less subclinical atherosclerosis as measured by coronary artery calcification (CAC).
The intro to this paper summarizes information known about coffee and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Although early observational studies suggested coffee could increase risks:
More recent meta‐analysis of prospective studies showed that moderate coffee consumption was associated with decreased CVD risk, all‐cause mortality, and mortality attributed to CVD and neurologic disease in the overall population. High coffee consumption (>5 cups/d) was neither related to CVD risk nor to risk of mortality. To corroborate this evidence, the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans show that consumption of 3 to 5 cups/d of coffee is associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus and CVD in adults. Consequently, moderate coffee consumption can be incorporated into a healthy dietary pattern, along with other healthful behaviors. Although coffee consumption has been studied in relation to various risk factors of CVD, only 4 studies have investigated the association between coffee intake and subclinical atherosclerosis, and the data available were limited and inconsistent.
Coffee is rich in phenolic compounds which have demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antithrombotic properties which could lower cardiovascular risks. However, unfiltered coffee is rich in cholesterol‐raising compounds (diterpenes, kahweol, and cafestol) that can increase total cholesterol, low‐density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglycerides which could worsen cardiovascular risk.
Consumption of filtered coffee however does not effect lipid levels adversely- presumably, those nasty diterpenes are retained by my Chemex filter.
The Brazilian Longitudinal study looked at 4426 residents of Sao Paulo, Brazil who underwent a CAC measurement. Information on coffee consumption was obtained from a food frequency questionnaire.
Those who reported high coffee consumption (>3 cups per day) had one-third the chance of a CAC>100 than nondrinkers. More coffee=less plaque build up in the coronary arteries. Less atherosclerotic plaque should = fewer heart attacks and strokes.
Scientific Consensus On The Healthiness of Coffee Consumption
In contrast to what the public believes, the scientific evidence very consistently suggests that drinking coffee is associated with living longer and having less heart attacks and strokes. Multiple publications in major cardiology journals in the last few years have confirmed this.
You can read the details here and here. The bottom line is that higher levels of coffee consumption (>1 cup per day in the US and >2 cups per day in Europe) are NOT associated with:
- Hypertension (if you are a habitual consumer)
- Higher total or bad cholesterol (unless you consume unfiltered coffee like Turkish, Greek or French Press types, which allow a fair amount of the cholesterol-raising diterpenesinto the brew)
- Increase in dangerous (atrial fibrillation/ventricular tachycardia) or benign (premature ventricular or supra-ventricular contractions) irregularities in heart rhythm
Higher levels of coffee consumption compared to no or lower levels IS associated with:
- lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes
- lower risk of dying, more specifically lower mortality from cardiovascular disease
- Lower risk of stroke
So, if you like coffee and it makes you feel good, drink it without guilt, there is nothing to suggest it is hurting your cardiovascular health. It’s real food. These tend to be good for you.
N.B. The Chemex Coffeemaker was invented in 1941 by Dr. Peter Schlumbohm PhD. Made simply from non-porous, borosilicate glass and fastened with a wood collar and tie, it brews coffee without imparting any flavors of its own. On permanent display at MOMA NY and other fine museums, it is truly a work of art.
Despite Kaldi’s gastronomic abomination, I’m still predominantly using their coffee beans.
The Brazilian coffee study has numerous flaws like all observational dietary studies.
The caffeine in coffee can bring on palpitations. If you feel palpitations or other symptoms after consuming coffee you should lower the caffeine content or amount until you no longer experience troubling symptoms. Be guided by how you feel.
(This article was updated 3/26/2023. I still choose Kaldi’s coffee bean when I’m in St. Louis. My brand of choice in San Diego is Bird Rock Coffee Roasters.)
12 thoughts on “It's National Coffee Day-Let's Celebrate The Health Benefits Of Java!”
If “palpitation” were a technical term, it would have an official abbreviation, such as PTN or some such, right? 🙂
Coffee does not effect me that way, but my wife doesn’t touch it due to her resulting palpitations.
Now, what exactly is a palpitation if not “some irregularity in heart rhythm”?
Please tell me that a new Espresso machine is ok for my heart….
Or should I dust off my old (plastic filter frame) glass filter-dripper instead. ?
I have been drinking coffee with my Chemex pour over system since the 70’s! Best way to have a fresh cup each time. Thanks for the post!
My wife who is Russian introduced me to Turkish coffee brewed the way it has been brewed in Turkey for hundreds of years. I drink a large cup of freshly ground coffee every morning. To me it is just the best way to start the day. I drink it Turkish which means no creamers or dairy such as milk. The cardiologist is spot on when he says coffee won’t hurt your heart.
yep, love my 3 cups a day. I order my beans from Hawaii- really like the Kona beans.
Would there results be the same if drinking decaf?
Hard to say. Decaffeinated coffee has no acute hemodynamic effects but long term consequences aren’t clear. If the beneficial results of coffee relate to its phenolic compounds the question would be how does the decaffeination process influence the beneficial compounds in coffee.?
Apparently not so much but depends on the process by which the decaffeinating is done.
Thanks for the reference. Looks like the abstract was 2010, so no actual published paper?
Variety of methods-Decaf methods, i.e. Swiss water (SW), supercritical CO2 (SCC), water:ethyl acetate(WEA), methylene chloride(MC), and water (H2O), may alter phenolic content, antioxidant capacity and health benefits.
One would have to research the origin of one’s decaf to be sure it wasn’t treated with methylene chloride
Looks like it’s difficult to determine what process is used, but you will seemingly avoid the MC if you buy organic
Is it alright to put a small amount of half and half? I do not use sugar, but I do like half and half in my coffee.
Since dairy fat is neutral to beneficial (depending on the form) it is fine to put half and half or creamer in coffee. I use either one depending on availability and my desire to limit carbs any given morning. I touched on this in my post entitled “You’re the titanium dioxide in my coffee”