Does Coffee Disturb Your Heart’s Rhythm?

In the United States and Europe, atrial fibrillation is the most prevalent kind of cardiac arrhythmia, impacting millions of individuals every day. A-fib is a cardiac disorder in which your heart beats erratically and inefficiently. Although some people are unaware that they have a-fib, it is a severe illness that contributes to an estimated 750,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year.

Although the origins of a-fib are unknown, one widely held belief is that too much coffee might cause it. “Avoiding atrial fibrillation and, as a result, decreasing your stroke risk can be as simple as skipping your morning cup of coffee,” according to the American Heart Association’s website. Although the article goes on to explain more serious therapies like beta blockers and calcium channel blockers, the notion of just giving up coffee looks extremely attractive.

This suggestion, as enticing as it may seem, is incorrect, at least for males.

Vijaykumar Bodar and colleagues from Harvard Medical School looked examined data from over 19,000 men who took part in the long-term Physicians’ Health Research in a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in 2019. They studied the risk of atrial fibrillation in males who drank ranging from zero to four cups of coffee each day.

Men who consumed 1-3 cups of coffee per day had a 15% reduced risk of a-fib than men who never or nearly never drank coffee, according to the researchers. They also discovered a sliver of a “dosage” effect, with the highest risk reduction at 1.5 cups per day and decreased benefit as intake increased to 4 or more cups.

Ryan Aleong and Amneet Sandhu point out in a research commentary that coffee includes a variety of chemicals that might explain its cardiovascular effects. They do, however, caution out that the advantages are at best marginal.

Women, on the other hand, do not appear to profit from coffee in the same way that males do. Higher caffeine consumption did not raise, but did not decrease, the incidence of a-fib in women, according to the Women’s Health Study from 2010. There was a small increase in the risk of a-fib in a subgroup of women who drank the most coffee, but those women also smoked more.

(In fact, the statistics in Table 2 of the Women’s Health Research report show that women who consumed an average quantity of caffeine had a 20% reduced risk of atrial fibrillation, which is consistent with a more recent study in males.)

This appears to be excellent news for those of us who enjoy coffee. At worst, coffee isn’t harmful to your heart, and at best, it may help you avoid atrial fibrillation.

Some caveats: despite the fact that these are big studies including thousands of men and women who were tracked for years, they rely on self-reporting of coffee use, which isn’t always accurate. But since it’s impossible to accurately monitor caffeine consumption over a lengthy period of time, that’s probably the best we can do.

If you like coffee, the best suggestion appears to be to maintain drinking one or two cups each day. Cutting off morning coffee, as suggested by the American Heart Association, is unlikely to assist people with atrial fibrillation.

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