- Regular coffee drinkers also have lower blood pressure measurements, new research shows.
- Drinking at least three cups of coffee each day may help maintain low blood pressure readings, but even people who consume less than three cups per day can see blood pressure benefits.
- Though the caffeine content in coffee has shown to increase blood pressure, other coffee components, like antioxidants, may help to lower blood pressure.
Drinking three or more cups of coffee each day has been associated with lower blood pressure readings, according to new research published last month in the journal Nutrients.
The study, conducted by a team of researchers at Sant’Orsola-Malpighi University Hospital in Bologna, Italy, found that self-reported regular coffee drinkers had significantly lower readings of both peripheral and central aortic blood pressure, compared to non-coffee drinkers.
“In our study, carried out on a large population sample, we observed that current consumers of three or more cups per day have lower peripheral and central blood pressure—a marker of arterial stiffening or aging—compared with non-drinkers,” study author Arrigo F. G. Cicero, PhD, an associate professor at Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna, told Health.
People who consume less than three cups of coffee daily may even see blood pressure benefits. “The trend seems to be positive from two cups of coffee per day,” Cicero said.
With an estimated 66% of Americans drinking coffee every day—more than any other beverage including tap water—the drink has the potential to greatly impact the lives and health of the nation. Here’s how the new study adds to the current research on coffee and heart health, and what experts have to say about reaching for an extra cup—or two—of coffee each day.
How Does Coffee Affect Blood Pressure?
The new study joins a large body of previous research on the interplay between coffee and cardiovascular health—and it may help begin to piece together the complicated relationship between coffee, caffeine, and blood pressure.
Although the benefits of coffee include a lower risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cognitive decline, among other things, the effect of coffee on blood pressure is still unclear—primarily due to the known impacts of caffeine on blood pressure.
“Caffeine is only one of the several coffee components and certainly not the only one with an active role.” Cicero said in a news release. “We know that caffeine can increase blood pressure, but other bioactive components in coffee seem to counterbalance this effect with a positive end result on blood pressure levels.”
To look more closely at the impact of coffee on blood pressure, Cicero and his team examined data from 720 men and 783 women who were involved in the Brisighella Heart Study—an ongoing study that has been in place since 1972 and is a randomized sample that’s representative of a rural town in Northern Italy.
The researchers analyzed data on participants’ self-reported coffee drinking habits, as well as blood pressure readings and other cardiovascular health markers.
“The results are very clear: peripheral blood pressure was significantly lower in individuals consuming one to three cups of coffee a day than in non-coffee drinkers,” Cicero said in the news release.
The study also also shed light on one aspect of coffee’s link to blood pressure that hadn’t been previously well addressed.
“Specifically, they found this [coffee’s link to lower blood pressure] to be true when measuring both the central aortic and peripheral pressure, which is furthest away from the heart,” Don Pham, MD, cardiologist at Houston’s Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital, who wasn’t involved with the study, told Health. “Prior to this study, most research done in this area looked at mainly the peripheral pressures, which some experts believe may not be as accurate as the central pressure measurements.”
These benefits were seen despite coffee’s caffeine content—which makes experts believe that any blood pressure-lowering effects coffee has likely come from antioxidants found in the beverage.
“Intuitively, one would expect coffee to raise your blood pressure from the caffeine but, in fact, experts believe that there are several antioxidant compounds in your cup of java that counteract this to lower your blood pressure,” Dr. Pham said.
“The antioxidant substances included in coffee (flavonoids, as quercetin, caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid, but also tannins) could exert an anti-inflammatory effect on the inner wall of the artery, exerting a kind of anti-aging effect on the vessel,” Cicero said. “This could prevent the artery wall stiffening.” In fact, previous research has shown that flavonoids like quercetin could help modulate blood pressure. Chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid have also been linked to lower numbers.
Should You Start Drinking Coffee to Lower Blood Pressure?
If you’re a regular coffee drinker, you may be tempted to reach for another cup in the name of heart health—but while the new findings are promising, they should be interpreted with caution, said Bibhu D. Mohanty, MD, assistant professor of cardiovascular sciences and director of the Neuro-Cardiac Program at the University of South Florida.
According to Dr. Mohanty, the study has some limitations—namely due to its self-reported data. “The metric used in this study is ‘cups’ of coffee,” he said. “Right off the bat, what is a ‘cup’? Every single individual, within each country, within each coffee growing region, and between commercial allegiances, defines ‘cup’ differently.”
It’s also important to remember that coffee drinking is just one factor in the bigger picture of healthy (or not-so-healthy) lifestyle.
“It could very well be that a person drinking three cups has a more active lifestyle or more demanding employment responsibilities, and that activity level—not the coffee itself—is the driving force behind the [blood pressure] effects seen,” Dr. Mohanty said.
Cicero also noted that, since his team’s research focused only on a specific Italian population, its results can’t necessarily be extrapolated to the whole world.
With all the back and forth of research on coffee and your heart, the bottom-line question remains: If you’re not a coffee fan, should you take up the habit for heart health? Or if you’re the several-cups-a-day type, should you continue?
“This data is exciting in that you may receive additional benefits with your blood pressure if you are a coffee drinker. But if you are not already a coffee drinker, then I would not advise you to start now as a means to lower your blood pressure,” Dr. Pham said. “I would recommend instead sticking with a healthy diet and regular exercise, which we know works. Also, don’t forget to avoid the temptation of adding extra sugar or excessive toppings to your drink, ultimately turning it into a full-blown dessert.”
“I would not recommend coffee to lower BP, nor would I ask someone to start if they are not a coffee drinker,” Dr. Mohanty added. “I would simply offer reassurance that if an individual drinks coffee within a normal range, then they need not worry about cardiovascular harm [as long as your doctor hasn’t advised you to reduce stimulants] and alternatively, may accrue some benefit.”
Cicero AFG, Fogacci F, D'Addato S, et al. Self-reported coffee consumption and central and peripheral blood pressure in the cohort of the Brisighella Heart Study. Nutrients. 2023;15(2):312. doi:10.3390/nu15020312
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