People May Limit Coffee Consumption Based on Blood Pressure, Heart Rate

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People May Limit Coffee Consumption Based on Blood Pressure, Heart Rate

People may limit their coffee consumption — consciously or unconsciously — based on the effect that drinking coffee has on cardiovascular factors like blood pressure and heart rate, according to a new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study’s authors noted that drinking too much coffee — above a level that’s different for each person — can lead to unpleasant sensations like a fast or pounding heartbeat. Based on how people feel after drinking a certain amount of coffee, it stands to reason that most people won’t go over a threshold that’s harmful to their cardiovascular health. But there hasn’t been much evidence to support this idea, so the researchers sought to find out how cardiovascular symptoms are linked to coffee consumption patterns.

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Using a sample of 390,435 people of European ancestry from the large UK Biobank study, the researchers looked at participants’ self-reported habitual coffee consumption and their measured blood pressure and heart rate. These numbers were then compared with cardiovascular symptoms based on their health records and self-reporting. The researchers then used a statistical technique (called Mendelian randomization) to look for evidence that blood pressure and heart rate helped determine how much coffee people drank.

The results showed that people with hypertension (high blood pressure), angina (chest pain), or an irregular heartbeat were more likely to drink less caffeinated coffee, or to drink decaffeinated coffee or not drink coffee habitually, than people without these conditions. In particular, for every 10 mm Hg of higher systolic blood pressure (the “top number,” measured during heartbeats), people tended to drink 0.21 fewer cups of coffee per day. For every 10 mm Hg of higher diastolic blood pressure (the “bottom number,” measured between heartbeats), people tended to drink 0.33 fewer cups of coffee per day. What’s more, a higher resting heart rate was linked to a higher likelihood of being a habitual decaffeinated coffee drinker, with an increase of 10 beats per minute linked to a 71% increase in likelihood.

The researchers concluded that their evidence showed that people tend to regulate their own coffee consumption based on their heart rate and blood pressure — a finding that calls into question the large number of studies that have shown health benefits linked to drinking coffee. Rather than showing that drinking coffee leads to health benefits, these studies may simply show that healthier people — at least when it comes to cardiovascular health — tend to drink more coffee because they can do so without experiencing unpleasant symptoms. “Caution is required when inferred health benefits result from comparisons with coffee abstainers or decaffeinated coffee drinkers,” the researchers noted.

Want to learn more about protecting your heart? Read “Be Heart Smart: Know Your Numbers,” “Does Diabetes Hurt Your Heart?” “Fight Off Heart Disease With These Five Heart-Healthy Foods” and “Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease.”

Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

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A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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