Photo credit: ketmanee / ShutterstockIts intense aroma and strong, bittersweet taste are not the only reasons that coffee is rich; it’s known to be loaded with active compounds and vitamins that have a variety of health-promoting characteristics. Indeed, slurping coffee regularly is thought to be associated with numerous benefits, such as a lower incidence of Parkinson’s and certain types of cancers, and even reduced rates of DNA damage. Now, to add to this ever-growing list, it seems that drinking coffee could reduce the risk of clogged arteries, which can lead to heart attacks.
According to the study, those who drank several cups of coffee a day were less likely to have buildups of calcium in the arteries that supply the heart. Although these deposits are considered early warning signs of heart disease, the results do not mean that if you start drinking coffee you will be protected against this condition. However, they do add to the ongoing debate over whether coffee is “heart healthy.”
Hidden amongst the headlines reporting coffee’s supposed benefits, some studies have actually shown that there could also be some negatives associated with its consumption. For example, drinking lots of unfiltered coffee was found to be associated with increased “bad” cholesterol. In addition, some studies found that coffee could increase the risk of heart disease in some. On the other hand, research indicated that regular coffee drinkers may have a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, which makes people prone to heart disease. Furthermore, drinking more than two cups a day was found to bestow a 20% lower risk of stroke compared with those who drank less.
It’s clear that the literature is confusing, so in an attempt to offer some clarity, researchers in Korea decided to look at the risk of developing heart problems in a different way. They enrolled 25,138 men and women who underwent routine health screening examinations. Their average age was 41 and none of them had any signs of heart disease at the onset.
After reporting lifestyle habits, such as smoking status, alcohol, food and coffee consumption, the participants were given CT scans to determine how much calcium was present in the coronary arteries that bring blood to the heart. Calcium is not normally found here and its presence is usually regarded as an early sign of coronary heart disease (CHD), a condition in which calcium-containing deposits begin to build up in the arteries. Over time, these can harden or break open, which can reduce blood flow to the heart or cause clots that can lead to heart attacks.
The scans revealed that while none of them had any symptoms of CHD, more than 13% had calcium in their coronary arteries. But after taking into account heart risk factors, such as smoking or exercise, they found that those who drank 3-5 cups a day had 40% less calcium in their arteries than non-coffee drinkers. This was reduced to 35% for those who drank 1-3, and 23% for those who drank just one.
Although there is a clear association, the study cannot prove whether it was the coffee that is the cause of the reduced calcium. Furthermore, it is not clear how coffee could be causing this possible effect, although it may be related to its high antioxidant content.