Caffeine is one of the most commonly consumed substances in the United States. In fact, a 2018 study published in the Journal of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that 90% of the American adult population regularly consumes caffeine, and about 64% was from coffee.
While drinking coffee can spike heart rate and blood pressure, research has found that moderate caffeine consumption can be heart-healthy. Here’s what you need to know about caffeine and your heart.
Moderate caffeine intake isn’t bad for your heart
Yes, caffeine is a stimulant, and it can raise your heart rate and blood pressure, but only temporarily.
In general, researchers have not found a long-term association between moderate caffeine consumption and high blood pressure or elevated heart rate. Nor have they found that it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, including a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure.
For reference, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day is generally a safe amount to consume. One 8-ounce cup of coffee usually contains between 80 to 100 mg of caffeine, so that’s around four or five cups each day.
Moderate caffeine intake, especially from coffee, may even have positive health effects. For example, a 2014 systematic review published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation examined 36 studies with about 1.3 million participants and found that moderate coffee consumption — measured at three to five cups per day — was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
“I think moderate coffee intake is more likely to help patients with heart disease than harm,” says Ejaz M. Khan, MD, FACC, FHRS, Medical Director of the Electrophysiology Lab at AtlantiCare Physician Group.
In fact, a 2017 umbrella review of meta-analyses in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) also found that coffee consumption of three cups per day was associated with a lower risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. The study authors suggest that coffee’s benefits come from its antioxidant properties, which are known to contribute to heart health, and are also rich in fruits, teas, and dark chocolate.
If you are sensitive to caffeine, you may want to be more cautious
According to the FDA, a fast heart rate, jitters, insomnia, anxiousness, nausea, and headache are common indicators that you are sensitive to caffeine or may have consumed too much.
Those with an arrhythmia, or an irregular heart rhythm, may be more sensitive to caffeine’s effects on heart rate, and can be more likely to feel heart palpitations or fluttering from drinking coffee, says Khan.
A 2018 review published in JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology concluded that avoiding caffeine is only necessary when there’s a clear association between caffeine intake and arrhythmia. However, everyone processes caffeine differently, and even though moderate consumption is deemed safe, the amount you should drink is highly dependent on how your body responds.
“I usually advise patients to listen to their body, and if they feel fluttering and jitters after caffeine intake, I tell them to avoid it,” says Khan, adding that he’s had patients report fewer symptoms after decreasing caffeine consumption.
In addition, pregnant women should be more cautious with caffeine intake, as some studies have found that even moderate consumption can be associated with harmful birth outcomes. The American Pregnancy Association recommends consuming no more than 200 mg per day.
It’s also wise to be more careful with highly caffeinated products. For example, if you start your day with an energy drink, you could be consuming as much as 250 mg in a single 8-ounce serving. Certain highly concentrated caffeine supplements are very dangerous — for example, one teaspoon of pure powdered caffeine can equate to 28 cups of coffee — and the FDA estimates that these products have contributed to two deaths in the US.
Overall, moderate caffeine intake is considered safe for your heart, and drinking a few cups of coffee may even have cardiovascular benefits. But if you are sensitive to caffeine or consuming too much, it’s best to exercise caution.
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