Nearly two-thirds of American adults drink at least one cup of coffee per day, and some people can finish off an entire pot before lunch. But is all that caffeine bad for your heart? The answer may depend on whether you’re a moderate coffee drinker or a full-on latte fanatic.
Is Caffeine Bad for Your Heart?
Caffeine is extremely well-tolerated, but it may be problematic for certain people with heart-related conditions. As a natural stimulant, caffeine acts on the central nervous system and leads to a temporary increase in heart rate and blood pressure. For a person living with hypertension, this can be a cause for concern.
Thankfully, the effects are only temporary, usually peaking within an hour and disappearing within four hours. And it’s also important to note that there are a lot of benefits to drinking coffee. Studies have shown that:
- It can improve your alertness and energy
- It’s an abundant source of antioxidants
- It can help elevate mood
- It may enhance athletic performance
- It can help reduce cavities
- It may reduce the risk of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease
Still, for someone who lives with heart disease or exhibits certain risk factors of heart disease, caution may be advised. The important thing is to monitor your caffeine intake. One 8 oz. cup of fresh-brewed coffee can contain almost 100 milligrams of caffeine. If you order a premium Starbucks drink in the Venti size, you may consume 475 milligrams of caffeine in a single sitting.
And that’s where cardiovascular health becomes a concern.
Can Caffeine Cause Heart Disease?
Heart disease is typically the result of several factors, such as poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, and smoking. The research has been somewhat inconsistent as to whether or not caffeine plays a role—and the extent to which it plays a role.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association concluded that there is no relationship between chronic caffeine consumption and irregular heartbeats (the kinds of arrhythmias that lead to heart- and stroke-related death. In other words, coffee by itself probably won’t kill you—even if your heart is in less-than-perfect condition.
However, not all of the research has been positive. A 2006 study concluded that at-risk individuals were four times more likely to experience a heart attack within an hour of drinking coffee. The consumption didn’t cause heart disease; rather, it increased the likelihood of heart attack in people already suffering from heart disease. Oddly enough, the risk was highest among light drinkers (those who drink just one cup per day). Light drinkers experience more of a jolt to the system as a result of lower caffeine tolerance.
The apparent discrepancy between these two studies may be resolved when we consider the role of hypertension (high blood pressure). Hypertension is a leading contributor to heart disease and cardiac arrhythmias. When you cause already-high blood pressure to spike via caffeine consumption, the risk of a cardiac event increases. The caffeine just exacerbates the pre-existing condition.
How Much Caffeine Is Safe for Heart Health?
For healthy adults, mild to moderate coffee consumption shouldn’t pose much of a health risk. Many experts recommend 300 to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, or 3 to 4 cups of coffee. This is considered a moderate intake and is generally well-tolerated.
However, you may need to further restrict your caffeine intake if:
- You have heart disease
- You were born with a congenital heart defect
- You have high blood pressure
- You have diabetes
- You have a history of heart arrhythmias
- You struggle with anxiety or panic attacks
Because even small amounts of coffee might increase a vulnerable person’s heart attack risk in the short term, caffeine may need to be limited entirely. If you’re at an elevated risk of a cardiac episode, speak to your doctor.
Coffee and Heart Disease – What You Can Do
If you love your coffee but you’re concerned that you may be in the vulnerable category, there are things you can do to protect yourself:
- Speak to your doctor. The most important thing you can do is undergo a medical assessment and seek the advice of a professional who can help you to better put your risk level into perspective.
- Switch to decaf. The problem isn’t so much “coffee and heart disease;” it’s more a problem of “caffeine and heart disease.” So if you drink coffee for the flavor or for the social aspect (rather than for the jolt of energy), your solution may be as simple as switching to a decaffeinated variety.
- Drink moderately but consistently. Stick to the recommended daily allowance of 400 milligrams or less. Try also to be consistent about it, maintaining a basic daily routine. If you’re only an occasional coffee drinker, you need to be extra careful as the caffeine may place additional stress on your system.
- Observe how coffee affects your blood pressure. Test your blood pressure before drinking coffee; then test it an hour after drinking coffee. If the spike is small, or if your blood pressure remains in the normal to high-normal range, your risk should be low. However, if your BP creeps into the hypertension range (above 130 systolic or 80 diastolic), you may need to cut back or eliminate your coffee intake.
- Don’t drink coffee before engaging in strenuous or stressful activity. This can further exacerbate the blood pressure issue and elevate your risk.
- Watch out for red flags. Finally, eliminate your caffeine intake if you notice telltale warning signs like chest pain, heart palpitations, elevated heart rate, or labored breathing.
Most importantly, be proactive about minimizing other heart disease risk factors. Take steps to manage your weight, maintain a healthy diet, quit smoking, and keep your alcohol consumption to a minimum.
If you’re at a heightened risk for heart attack or cardiac arrest, you might also invest in an automated external defibrillator (AED). If you experience a cardiac emergency in your home, the device may be used to restore your normal heart rhythm and possibly even save your life. The HeartSine Samaritan PAD 350P is an excellent example of a small, easy-to-use defibrillator that offers medical-grade features at an affordable price, and it even comes with a 10-year warranty.
When it comes to coffee and heart disease, you shouldn’t have much to worry about. Just be aware of any existing conditions, take care of your health as much as possible, and enjoy the occasional guilt-free cup o’ joe.