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Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Coffee and Heart Health: The Latest Buzz

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Coffee Beans and Cappuccino Art
Half of all Americans get their morning kick start from a cup of joe, but many of us harbor a nagging fear that our morning habit may be doing us harm.  As a cardiologist, I am constantly warning my patients of the dangers of saturated fats, sweets, and smoking, but coffee is one little indulgence that may actually do us some good.

Interest in the health benefits of coffee drinking has been brewing for years, but so have fears that our national habit may have some harmful repercussions. In 2008, Dr. Esther Lopez-Garcia and colleagues with the Harvard School of Public Health reported on coffee use in a study of over 41,000 men and 86,000 women who were followed for 18 to 24 years.

The verdict? Good news for java heads everywhere. Her team found absolutely no increased risk of heart disease, cancer, or other causes of death in coffee drinkers, even in those who drank six or more cups daily.  In fact, there was a trend towards a lower risk for heart disease in those who drank the most coffee. Other studies have found that coffee drinkers are less likely to become diabetic, and that they have higher levels of good (HDL) cholesterol and lower blood markers of inflammation.

What exactly is it about coffee that might make it heart friendly? Researchers are enthusiastically working to find out. The most plausible explanation is that coffee is a fabulous source of antioxidants. Antioxidants are little chemicals that help to protect our blood vessels from the dangerous effects of bad (LDL) cholesterol and other toxins that we expose ourselves to through our diets and lifestyles.

Is coffee a good idea for you? It depends. For some people, coffee causes heart palpitations, rapid heart rates, and high blood pressure. Others will suffer from gastric reflux with even a few small sips of the stuff. If you take a coffee break later than 3 p.m., it may interfere with your sleep, since caffeine stays in the bloodstream for up to nine hours. Decaf may be a better choice, but we don’t know as much about its health effects.  When coffee is unfiltered, such as espresso, boiled, or French press coffee, it can raise cholesterol levels. And adding gobs of whipped cream, sugar, and syrups will quickly wipe out any potential benefits.  There are many other ways to bring antioxidants into your diet, so there’s no reason to pick up the habit if it’s not something you enjoy. As always, check with your doctor before making any major changes in your diet or lifestyle.  

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Tags: Caffeine and the Heart , Diet and Heart Health

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About the Author


MD, FACC

Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.

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