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Coffee and the risk of heart disease

Coffee has a long history of health suspicion. It has been blamed for a variety of health problems from anxiety to heart attacks, but recent evidence suggests coffee may actually be good for you. So which is it? Good or bad?

The answer might be both. Most contemporary studies have found there is an association with moderate levels of coffee consumption and decreased overall mortality (this may not be the case for people who drink large amounts of coffee, though). Conversely, older studies tended to show a higher risk of death with coffee consumption but didn’t take into account associated behaviours, such as smoking and physical inactivity, that were common in heavy coffee drinkers at the time. Coffee consumption has been shown to reduce the incidence of type II diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease and can improve cognition and reduce the risk of depression, although the ‘dose’ required is still up for debate.

So, what about coffee and heart disease? Drinking high levels of unfiltered coffee (espresso or boiled) mildly increases cholesterol levels. One study of 4000 coffee drinkers has even shown an increase in the risk of heart disease for those who drink more than two cups a day and have a genetic mutation that affects how quickly they metabolise caffeine. The bad news for coffee lovers is that in diverse urban areas this mutation is common—about 54% of people have it.

However, larger studies on the effect of coffee on heart disease have not shown a significantly increased risk. It is postulated that the antioxidant effects of coffee consumption offset the negatives listed above. Overall, moderate coffee consumption seems to have a neutral effect on the risk of developing heart disease.

So you don’t have to give up that morning cup of coffee just yet. Of course, the benefits from moderate coffee consumption can be quickly lost by the oversized, highly sugared, full fat, mass produced coffee beverages favoured by some of today’s coffee consumers.

So next time, think twice before ordering that extra tall, double cream frappuccino from your favourite coffee purveyor.

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