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Good news for coffee lovers: the drink doesn't stiffen arteries

Coffee lovers around the world may have been a little worried by recent, conflicting studies. Is it good for you? Is it bad for you? Does it stunt growth? Raise the risk of heart disease?

On one front, at least, they can now rest easily. A new study shows that drinking coffee – even as much as 25 cups a day, though less is probably better – doesn’t stiffen arteries.

“Despite the huge popularity of coffee worldwide, different reports could put people off from enjoying it. Whilst we can’t prove a causal link in this study, our research indicates coffee isn’t as bad for the arteries as previous studies would suggest,” said Dr. Kenneth Fung of Queen Mary University, who led the data analysis.

Previous studies had, on occasion, indicated a possible link between coffee lovers’ drink of choice and stiff arteries, but not consistently. Other studies have linked coffee drinking to good health. Which should people believe?

Fung and his colleagues set out to determine if there really was a connection between coffee and hard arteries.

The study worked with more than 8,400 UK residents, in three groups: Those who drank less than one cup of coffee a day, those who drank one to three cups, and those who drank more than three. They excluded anyone who drank more than 25 cups of coffee in a day.

“Although our study included individuals who drink up to 25 cups a day, the average intake amongst the highest coffee consumption group was five cups a day,” Fung noted. “We would like to study these people more closely in our future work so that we can help to advise safe limits.”

The researchers took the coffee lovers’ demographics into account, factoring in age, smoking status, alcohol use, weight, height, gender, ethnicity, diet and blood pressure. Using MRI heart tests and pulse wave tests, they determined that drinking large amounts of coffee didn’t seem to have much effect on arterial stiffness. They also found that most moderate and heavy coffee drinkers tended to be male smokers who drank alcohol regularly – all risk factors for hardened arteries.

“Understanding the impact that coffee has on our heart and circulatory system is something that researchers and the media have had brewing for some time,” said Dr. Metin Avkiran of the British Heart Foundation, which co-funded the research with the Medical College of Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital Trust.

“There are several conflicting studies saying different things about coffee, and it can be difficult to filter what we should believe and what we shouldn’t,” he said. “This research will hopefully put some of the media reports in perspective, as it rules out one of the potential detrimental effects of coffee on our arteries.”

The researchers will present their findings at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference in Manchester today.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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