Is Coffee Bad for You?

Dr. Sharon Orrange
Dr. Orrange is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine in the Division of Geriatric, Hospitalist and General Internal Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
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Is drinking coffee bad for me? For a drink as popular as coffee, its physiologic effects are something you should learn about. You will be reassured I’m sure.

The Good

Maintaining alertness is a well-known benefit and what most of us rely on caffeine for. But what else? Every day my patients ask me if coffee is bad for their heart. In addition to caffeine coffee contains polyphenols which are dietary antioxidants. Intriguing right?

The Heart

Coffee and the caffeine in it do not increase your overall risk for coronary heart disease (CHD), nor does it adversely affect heart failure. Studies have actually shown that, in moderation, there may be some benefit for congestive heart failure. What surprises people to hear is that overall, there appears to be a beneficial effect and lower all-cause mortality with caffeine and coffee.

The Brain and Stroke

Doesn’t coffee raise my blood pressure and isn’t that bad? Hypertension (high blood pressure) is not increased by coffee, contrary to what many believe. In fact, there is some evidence that coffee and caffeine show a benefit in reducing stroke.

What about atrial fibrillation?

Association of coffee with arrhythmias has been a major concern though in moderation it is not a significant overall problem. Obviously if you feel worsening arrhythmic symptoms with coffee you should stay away from it.

Wait, it protects me from diabetes?

Yep. Where coffee clearly shines is decreasing the chance you will develop type 2 diabetes mellitus. We aren’t sure why this is but coffee contains an antioxidant, polyphenols, which may contribute to this benefit.

Is all of this really true?

Yes. A New England Journal of Medicine article in 2012 received a ton of attention when they found, in a very large cohort study, that coffee drinkers had lower risk of death due to heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, injuries and accidents, diabetes and infections. Lower risk.

The bottom line on coffee is there is much to recommend it from an overall cardiovascular standpoint.

Dr O.

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