Hypertensive? Put Down Your Coffee and Read This
For coffee lovers, that first sip marks the start of the day. But, if you have high blood pressure, enjoying a second cup of coffee each day can trigger serious heart health problems, including premature death.
Research recently published by the American Heart Association studied the cardiovascular health and coffee consumption of more than 18,000 men and women for 19 years. The researchers concluded that participants with severe hypertension (severely high blood pressure) who drank two or more cups of coffee each day had twice the risk of cardiovascular disease death compared to those who didn’t drink any coffee.
This study defines “severe hypertension” as having a single blood pressure reading of 160/100 or higher. Study participants with normal or high blood pressure did not develop the same cardiovascular risk after drinking the same amount of coffee. This association isn’t a direct cause because many other health factors and lifestyle choices affect cardiovascular risk.
Coffee is more complicated than you think.
On average, coffee includes more than 1,000 chemicals beyond caffeine, many of which affect how your body functions (such as chlorogenic acid and trigonelline).
“Caffeine can both increase and decrease blood pressure by altering total peripheral resistance, diuresis, and heart rate. However, daily coffee drinkers can develop a caffeine tolerance, which can explain why some patients lack the pressor (blood-pressure raising) effect of caffeine,” says Maria Carolina Delgado-Lelievre, M.D., a hypertension and cardiovascular prevention specialist at the University of Miami Health System.
There’s evidence that coffee is beneficial for some people.
Previously, researchers found that drinking a single daily cup of coffee may help prevent heart attacks or strokes in healthy individuals with normal blood pressure and even reduce the risk of death following a heart attack.
“Numerous studies and meta-analyses have found a reduction in all-cause mortality in people drinking coffee. This was recently confirmed by three large cohort studies including over 1 million subjects followed for at least 10 years,” Dr. Delgado-Lelievre says.
“There’s currently significant evidence showing that regular coffee intake is associated with significant reductions in incident arrhythmia, cardiovascular disease, and cardiovascular-related death.”
For these reasons, daily coffee intake can be considered part of a healthy diet. But, Dr. Delgado-Lelievre warns that “heavy coffee drinking should be avoided in hypertensive patients, especially if you have uncontrolled hypertension. Limit yourself to one cup a day.”
Am I hypertensive?
When you read your blood pressure, the numbers measure your systolic pressure (while the heart is pumping blood) and diastolic pressure (while the heart rests between beats). The numbers are presented like a fraction with systolic “over” diastolic.
According to the American Heart Association’s latest blood pressure guidelines:
- normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg
- elevated blood pressure: systolic between 120–129 and diastolic below 80
- stage 1 hypertension: systolic between 130–139 or diastolic 80–89
- stage 2 hypertension: systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg
- hypertensive crisis: systolic above 180 and/or diastolic over 120 (requires immediate medical attention)
“Why is this so important? Because hypertension is the number one risk for heart attack and strokes, the leading causes of death in the United States,” says Dr. Delgado-Lelievre.
High blood pressure can also lead to complications, including heart failure, kidney disease, aneurysms, eye damage, and cognitive impairments. The condition can weaken and damage your blood vessels.
The most important takeaway is that if your blood pressure is uncontrolled, you should work to lower your numbers.
How to lower your blood pressure
Luckily, positive lifestyle changes can positively impact your blood pressure and overall health. Your doctor can determine if medication (or a change to your current hypertension medication) could help bring your numbers under control.
The following healthy behaviors and habits are suitable for your whole body, your brain, your waistline, and your heart.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet.
- Reduce sugar and sodium.
- Avoid tobacco use.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Drink more water.
- Reduce emotional/mental stress.
- Get more sleep.
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributor for UHealth’s news service.