TUESDAY July 20, 2021
For decades, doctors have warned people with heart rhythm problems to avoid coffee, fearing that a caffeine shake could cause a jerky heartbeat.
But a big new study has found that most people can enjoy their morning coffee or afternoon diet cola worry-free – caffeine doesn’t seem to increase the risk of arrhythmia in most people.
“We see no evidence for this general recommendation to avoid coffee or caffeine,” said study co-author Dr. Gregory Marcus, deputy chief of cardiology for research at the University of California. in San Francisco. “There might be some individuals for whom caffeine is their trigger, but I think the growing evidence is that these cases are actually quite rare.”
In fact, the results indicate that each additional cup of coffee a person drinks on a daily basis could lower their arrhythmia risk of around 3% on average, according to the study published July 19 in JAMA Internal Medicine.
“The majority of people, even those with arrhythmias, should be able to enjoy their cup of coffee, and there may be some people for whom caffeine or coffee can actually help reduce their risk,” said Marcus.
Coffee is one of the most consumed drinks in the world, but its stimulating properties have prompted many doctors to warn heart patients against consuming java, Marcus said.
To see if caffeine can really cause the heart to speed up or abnormally beat, Marcus and his colleagues analyzed data from more than 386,000 people participating in a long-term UK health study.
Of that large group, about 17,000 developed a heart rhythm problem during an average follow-up of 4.5 years, according to the researchers.
All participants were asked about their coffee consumption when they entered the study. The researchers compared their response to their likelihood of developing an abnormal heart rhythm down the line.
The result: There was no link between caffeine and heart rhythm disturbances, even when the researchers took into account genetic factors that might influence the way individuals metabolize caffeine.
“We could not find any evidence at the population level that those who consumed more coffee or those who were exposed to more caffeine had an increased risk of arrhythmia,” said Marcus.
The results of the study show “that there is absolutely an unfounded dogma that coffee can cause arrhythmias,” said Dr. Zachary Goldberger, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
However, Goldberger cautioned against over-reading what the study observed about the potential protective benefits of caffeine, given that the effect was so small.
“I think the bottom line, based on these results, is that coffee may not cause arrhythmias, but it doesn’t necessarily protect them either,” said Goldberger, co-author of an accompanying commentary. study.
More research is needed to determine exactly how coffee affects the heart and why it might protect against arrhythmias, Marcus said.
Coffee has anti-inflammatory effects, and it’s well known that inflammation can contribute to heart rhythm problems, Marcus said. Caffeine may also cause some people to be more physically active, which reduces the risk of arrhythmias.
“We are probably not fully aware of the various mechanisms that may be relevant” to the relationship between caffeine and heart health, Marcus said.
Marcus said he encourages his own heart patients to experiment with coffee.
“In a lot of cases, for the record, it doesn’t make a difference,” Marcus said. “For the most part, I didn’t find this to be a strong trigger. They are very happy to receive this good news, especially those who love coffee.”
Marcus and Goldberger both recognize that there are likely some people who don’t respond well to coffee and their concerns should continue to be taken seriously.
“If a patient presents to the clinic with palpitations or symptoms of arrhythmia and asks if caffeine or coffee is playing a role, this is a personalized discussion,” Goldberger said. “If a patient reports having palpitations that seem to correlate with coffee or caffeinated drinks, this data does not allow us to tell them not to try to limit coffee. But I think we could tell our patient that coffee does not put people at a higher risk for heart rhythm disturbances. “
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in the United States has more information on arrhythmias.
SOURCES: Gregory Marcus, MD, deputy chief, research cardiology, University of California, San Francisco; Zachary Goldberger, MD, associate professor, cardiovascular medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison; JAMA Internal Medicine, July 19, 2021
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