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Mar 18, 2011

Is it Time to Smell the Coffee?

Coffee may reduce risk of stroke by as much as 25%.

It’s hard to walk a city block without passing a coffee shop (or 2, or 3), so it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages. Over half of American adults partake daily, and more than 500 billion cups are poured around the globe each year.

The more vexing questions revolve around coffee’s health effects. Scientists have posited that a phenol, a compound found in coffee, may have antioxidant properties that can reduce inflammation in the arteries. Naysayers point to the caffeine in coffee as a potential health hazard.

To determine if coffee consumption might have an impact on the risk of having a stroke, researchers analyzed data from 35,000 Swedish women with no prior history of cardiovascular disease. The information was collect collected in 1997 as part of the ongoing Swedish mammography study. At outset of the study, the women were asked to complete a detailed diet and lifestyle questionnaire that included questions on their daily coffee intake. Over the 10 year follow-up period, 1680 strokes were recorded in the study population. Overall, the women who drank one or more cups of coffee daily had a 25% lower risk of having a stroke than did the women who averaged less than a cup a day. This benefit held up even after accounting for other cardiovascular risks factors such as smoking hypertension, body mass index, diabetes and alcohol use.

While the results of this research are intriguing, further studies are needed to explore more closely the relationship between amount of coffee consumed and level of stroke risk. Even so, you can savor your cup of joe tomorrow morning with the added satisfaction that you may be doing something good for your cardiovascular health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Does coffee have other health benefits?

  • Another long-running study of women’s health, known as the Nurses’ Health Study, concluded that regular coffee drinkers were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Coffee has also been linked to a lower risk of liver disease, gallstones, colon cancer, and Parkinson’s Disease. And, as any sleep-deprived student will tell you, a cup of coffee can sharpen memory and improve the ability to perform complex tasks.
  • Are there drawbacks to drinking a lot of coffee?

  • Although there is strong evidence associating coffee with heart disease, caffeine is a mild stimulant and, as such, can cause a small, temporary rise in blood pressure and heart rate. It can also trigger heartburn and upset stomach in some people. While coffee itself has few or no calories, an extra-large caramel latte is a definite diet buster. Finally, heavy caffeine use can result in the “jitters” during the day and trouble sleeping at night.
  • Should pregnant women give up coffee?

  • Many women avoid coffee during pregnancy because they are concerned that caffeine can increase the risk miscarriage or preterm birth. However, a 2010 position statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that moderate caffeine consumption--about 200 milligrams or the equivalent of a 12-ounce cup of coffee--does not appear to be harmful.  When calculating your daily caffeine intake, be sure to account for caffeine from sources such as tea, cola, and chocolate, as well.

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