This post was written by Kirby Carlson, MSN, FNP-C, PPG – Cardiology.
Caffeine is a popular stimulant found in coffee (the most consumed beverage in the world), soda pop, tea and even chocolate. It can help you feel more alert and mentally ready for the day. It can also raise blood pressure and heart rate, but that is not always a bad thing. The question is, can caffeine benefit the heart?
The downside of caffeine
The risks associated with consuming caffeine, include that it can …
- irritate the heart and heart muscles
- cause your heart to become overactive
- cause an arrhythmia
- act as a diuretic, increasing the number of times you use the restroom
- decrease your blood volume
- stimulate adrenaline
The case for (and against) caffeine
Three large scale studies by Peter M. Kistler, MD, et al., examined how caffeinated coffee intake could impact heart health. These studies included up to 300,000 participants. The first study showed that 2-3 cups of coffee was associated with lower risk of developing coronary artery disease, heart failure or arrythmias. The second study concluded 2-3 cups of coffee lowered death rates as opposed to no coffee intake. The third study described caffeinated coffee is more favorable in the reduction of heart disease, including arrythmia, than decaffeinated coffee.
Now, a smaller scale trial, “CRAVE Trial,” examined 100 patients who either consumed or abstained from caffeinated coffee for 14 days. The patients all wore heart monitors. Results rolled in, showing increased premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) or “early heart beats,” higher activity levels, and reduced sleep by about 36 minutes per night with the coffee drinkers. Based on this, we can conclude that more early beats and missed sleep are associated with each extra cup of coffee you drink, as is more steps taken in a day.
It could be said that being more active is overall better for your health. So, drink more coffee to have more energy, right? True, but the key is moderation. All of the studies suggest around 2-3 cups of coffee per day. Remember, more PVCs (early beats) are associated with increased risk for arrythmia and heart failure. And reduced sleep is associated with psychological and neurological deficits.
Should you ditch your cup of coffee?
To summarize, moderate caffeine intake can be beneficial. But you can drink too much. Too much caffeine may make you feel jittery or have a racing, fluttering heart feeling. It’s important to drink plenty of water in addition to caffeinated beverages.
It should be noted that, in no way should the above information be used as a guideline to increase caffeine intake. Make sure you seek medical attention if you have any of the following:
- a headache that is getting worse or not going away
- feel lightheaded
- pass out
- altered mental behavior
- a heart flutter that’s impeding daily activities or causing you to be short of breath