Coffee’s curious heart effects

Heavy coffee consumption appears to substantially increase an individual’s risk of heart attack and sudden death, a Finnish study finds. Even occasional coffee drinkers are not off the hook: Those people had the highest blood pressure of any of the four groups studied, though they experienced only half the increase in serious heart events that heavy coffee drinkers endured.

In the 1980s, Pertti Happonen of the University of Kuopio and his colleagues recruited nearly 2,000 40-to-60-year-old men into a health study. After surveying diet, smoking, and other factors that influence heart risk, the scientists conducted blood and stress tests on the volunteers. Then, for 14 years, the researchers used data from a national hospital-discharge registry to tally heart attacks and related events among the study participants.

Men drinking more than 813 milliliters (about 3.5 8-ounce cups) of caffeinated coffee daily were 43 percent more likely to experience life-threatening heart events than were men drinking less but at least 376 ml (about 1.5 cups) daily, Happonen’s team reports in the September Journal of Nutrition. Men who abstained from coffee suffered the fewest heart problems.

Although smoking aggravated heart disease in the coffee drinkers, the brew’s effect was detectable even in men who never smoked. The question now, Happonen says, is whether the way that people make their coffee (SN: 9/16/95, p. 182) or the timing of when they drink it influences their heart risk.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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