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Can drinking coffee cut risk of cardiovascular disease and death?

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Coffee drinking linked to lower risk of cardiovascular disease

Wednesday Nov 20, 2013 (foodconsumer.org) -- Drinking coffee may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), according to a new meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies published in Circulation.

Dr. Frank  Hu and colleagues Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts and colleagues conducted the meta-analysis and found men and women who drank 3.5 cups of coffee per day were 15% less likely to suffer cardiovascular disease, compared with non-drinkers.

The association was not linear.  Those who drank 1.5 cups of coffee per day were at 11% lower risk for cardiovascular disease, compared with those who did not drink the beverage.  And those who drank the highest amount (5 cups per day) were found at 5% reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, compared with those who did not drink.'

As always not all studies are consistent.  This review sought to examine the association between long term coffee drinking and risk of cardiovascular disease based on all qualified studies.

The researchers found 36 prospective cohort studies of 1,279,804 participants and 36,352 cardiovascular disease cases in PubMed and EMBASE and a meta-analysis revealed a non-linear association between coffee intake and cardiovascular disease risk.

Coffee drinking was nonlinearly associated with both coronary heart disease and stroke risks

The study concluded "A non-linear association between coffee consumption with CVD (cardiovascular disease) risk was observed in this meta-analysis. Moderate coffee consumption was inversely significantly associated with CVD risk, with the lowest CVD risk at 3 to 5 cups/d, and heavy coffee consumption was not associated with elevated CVD risk."

It should be pointed out that none of all the studies used for the meta-analysis ever proved that drinking coffee was really the cause for the lower risk of the disease.  It's merely an association. It is possible that those who are at high risk for cardiovascular disease may avoid coffee and those at risk people may be classifed as non-drinkers, so people who drank coffee were actually healthier in the first place.

This type bias has been observed in many studies of the association between alcohol drinking and risk of heart disease.   Some studies classified at risk people who quit drinking because of health reasons as non-drinkers and then found reduced risk in those who drank alcohol.

In any case, both coffee and alcohol should not be considered preventatives against cardiovascular disease.  Those who are interested in reducing their risk of this disease may need to follow a diet with little meat and high amounts of plant-based foods or simply a plant-based diet.

Coffee consumption linked to elevated death risk from all causes

In Mayo Clinic Proceedings, another study suggests that drinking coffee may boost risk of  all causes including cardiovascular disease death.

Junxiu Liu, MD from Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina in Columbia, NC and colleagues conducted the prospective cohort study and found male coffee drinkers who drank 28 cups per week were 21% more likely to die from all causes compared with those who did not drink coffee.  

The risk was much higher among younger men and women who drank 28 cups per week with their mortality from all causes increased by 56% and 113% respectively.  The association was derived after adjustment for potential confounders and fitness levels.  Enrolled in the study were 43,727 men and women who were followed for 17 years. 

Spirulina and red yeast rice can help prevent cardiovascular disease

Some supplements can help protect against cardiovascular disease if you cannot resist eating animal based foods and do not have much plant-based foods to eat at the same time.  Spirulina, a type of blue green algae and red yeast rice have been proved to lower serum cholesterol concentrations effectively.  Lower cholesterol is linked to lower cardiovascular disease.

A recent review in Journal of Medicinal Food suggests that eating blue-green algae like spirulina can protect against cardiovascular disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.  

The review led by Jiyoung Lee, PhD from University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut and colleagues list many benefits blue-green algae can provide including, 

1) providing hycocyanin, carotenoids, γ-linolenic acid, fibers, and plant sterols;
2) lowering plasma total cholesterol and triglyceride-lowering properties;
3) reducing inflammation;
4) inhibiting lipid peroxidation and have free radical scavenging activity;
5) contributing to the prevention of metabolic and inflammatory diseases;

Spirulina is considered one of the healthiest foods humans can eat on the planet.  It has a full nutrition profile including vitamins, mineral and phytonutrients.  And it has the highest protein compared with all sorts of protein sources.

Both spirulina and red yeast rice are available as dietary supplements on the Internet and local health stores. (David Liu PHD)

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