By John Salak –
Yet another coffee conundrum has surfaced. In recent weeks at least three different studies out of Britain, Australia and the United States have either warned of dire consequences from drinking coffee or heralded its benefits. Two of the studies, in fact, directly contradict each other on whether a few expressos or lattes will help and hinder cardiovascular health.
Unfortunately, this is no small matter considering an estimated 3 billion cups of coffee are downed each day and cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, taking almost 20 million lives each year.
Against this backdrop, the University of South Australia warned that heavy coffee consumption—more than six cups a day—can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease by increasing the amount of lipids in a person’s blood. The university stressed that the more coffee consumed, the greater the risk.
“There’s certainly a lot of scientific debate about the pros and cons of coffee, but while it may seem like we’re going over old ground, it’s essential to fully understand how one of the world’s most widely consumed drinks can impact our health,” reported Elina Hyppönen, a researcher at the Australian university.
Hyppönen noted her researched focused on coffee because its beans contain a cafestol, cholesterol-elevating compound. If coffee lovers are to find any good news in the university’s work, it comes in Hyppönen’s assessment that not all coffees are created equally harmful.
“Cafestol is mainly present in unfiltered brews, such as French press, Turkish and Greek coffees, but it’s also in espressos, which is the base for most barista-made coffees, including lattes and cappuccinos,” she explained. “There is no, or very little cafestol in filtered and instant coffee, so with respect to effects on lipids, those are good coffee choices.”
It’s essential to understand the difference. “In my opinion it is especially important for people with high cholesterol or who are worried about getting heart disease to carefully choose what type of coffee they drink,” she advised.
U.S. researchers, in turn, aren’t so sure that coffee all that harmful. Their findings published in Circulation: Heart Failure, an American Heart Association journal, summarizes several reports that suggest drinking one or more cups of caffeinated coffee may actually help reduce the risk of heart failure
While the report acknowledges it is challenging to gauge the exact impact of coffee consumption because of inconsistencies in diet assessment and analytical methodologies associated with many studies, it leveraged a machine learning platform to analyze data collected from earlier research conducted over decades involving more than 20,000 people. Its key findings included:
- People who reportedly drank at least one cup of caffeinated coffee each day decreased their risk of long-term heart failure.
- Over decades, the risk of heart failure for coffee drinkers decreased by 5-to-12 percent per cup per day compared to individuals who drank no java.
- The risk of heart failure was unchanged for individuals drinking one cup or less per day.
- Yet, it was about 30% lower in people who drank at least 2 cups a day.
- Drinking decaffeinated coffee may actually significantly increase the risk of heart failure.
The results may have even caught the paper’s authors off guard. “The association between caffeine and heart failure risk reduction was surprising. Coffee and caffeine are often considered by the general population to be ‘bad’ for the heart because people associate them with palpitations, high blood pressure, etc. The consistent relationship between increasing caffeine consumption and decreasing heart failure risk turns that assumption on its head,” reported Dr David P. Kao, senior author of the study.
He was quick to note that more research needs to be done before recommending anyone dive into a vat of coffee. “There is not yet enough clear evidence to recommend increasing coffee consumption to decrease risk of heart disease with the same strength and certainty as stopping smoking, losing weight or exercising,” he explained.
More good news for coffee drinkers came out of Britain. Another analysis of pooled data published in the online journal BMJ Open found that drinking several cups of coffee each day may lower the risk of developing prostate cancer.
In fact, the report maintains that each additional cup of coffee per day may reduce the relative risk of prostate cancer by nearly one percent.
The researchers wanted to examine any possible links between prostate cancer and coffee consumption after other studies reported drinking coffee lowered the risk of liver, bowel, and breast cancers.
Their work centered on examining data from 16 studies involving more than one million men from North American, Europe and Japan. They found that the greater the consumption of coffee the lower the risk of localized prostate cancer as well as advanced and fatal prostate cancer. Ultimately, coffee consumption had the greatest positive impact on the deadliest level of prostate cancer.
“This study suggests that increased coffee consumption may be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Further research is still warranted to explore the underlying mechanisms and active compounds in coffee,” the report explained.
But it went on to underscore coffee’s potential promise. “If the association is further proved to be a causal effect, men might be encouraged to increase their coffee consumption to potentially decrease the risk of prostate cancer.”
Still unsure whether to grab that second, third or any cup of coffee? The researchers hear you even if they don’t agree on the consequences of consumption.
“With coffee being close to the heart for many people, it’s always going to be a controversial subject,” Hyppönen admits.