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Drinking Coffee May Lower Risk of Heart Failure, Study Shows

A woman drinks a cup of coffee near a sunny window in her kitchen.

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Key Takeaways

  • A study on more than 21,000 people found an association between drinking coffee and a lower risk of heart failure.
  • While other research also shows a link between heart health and coffee, further study is needed to rule out any potential confounding factors.
  • A healthy diet, regular exercise, and avoidance of smoking can reduce your risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States.

Debating whether or not to have that cup of coffee? Here’s something that might make your decision a little easier: New research has found that drinking coffee is connected to a lower risk of heart failure.

Published recently in Circulation, the American Heart Association’s scientific journal, the report used data from three other major studies to determine potential risk factors for coronary heart disease, stroke, and heart failure. The results showed a link between increasing coffee consumption and a reduced risk of heart failure over the long term.??

While the findings help dispel the common belief that coffee is bad for you, experts say that there’s still a lot more to learn about whether a cup of Joe can protect your heart health.

Findings on Coffee and Risk of Heart Failure?

For the report, researchers looked at data from three other large, longitudinal epidemiological studies—the Framingham Heart Study, Cardiovascular Heart Study, and Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study—to figure out the lifestyle choices and behaviors that may impact a person’s risk for certain cardiovascular diseases.

While the three studies included nearly 27,000 participants in total, researchers in this report excluded participants for various reasons, such as prior history of heart disease, incomplete dietary data, or missing information about follow-ups after a cardiovascular disease event (like a heart attack).

That left researchers with 21,361 participants, each of whom were studied regularly for at least 10 years. They ranged in age from 30 to more than 65 years old. Their data included information on their health and risk factors (such as body mass index, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and smoking habits), diet, and lifestyle choices.

Researchers then used machine learning to determine which foods and drinks were associated with heart disease, heart failure, and stroke, according to the data. After excluding red meat due to inconsistencies in data, the researchers found that coffee consumption was the only dietary factor that showed a significant association with cardiovascular health outcomes.

More specifically, the findings revealed that participants who drank more cups of caffeinated coffee per day had a strong reduction in the risk of heart failure, but not coronary heart disease or stroke.

Pilar Stevens-Haynes, MD

It’s an interesting association, but at this point, that’s all it is. I would caution that we have to be careful distinguishing between associations and cause and effect studies.

— Pilar Stevens-Haynes, MD

Data limitations made it difficult to figure out just how much coffee a person needed to drink before their risk of heart failure would drop. Some of the research showed that heart failure risk went down for people who drank at least two cups of caffeinated coffee per day, though.

Interestingly, some of the data indicated that decaffeinated coffee consumption may be linked with a higher risk of heart failure, offering clues about the role of caffeine in heart health. However, the authors indicate that there may be other lifestyle factors involved in this effect, which requires further study.??

Can Coffee Protect Your Heart?

This report was just the latest in a series of research that has found positive associations between coffee consumption and heart health. The researchers point out that the Framingham Heart Study (which was evaluated in this report) found that older adults who drank any amount of caffeinated coffee saw a 43% reduction in death for coronary heart disease, compared with non-coffee drinkers.???

Furthermore, a 2017 large-scale review of more than 200 meta-analyses found a link between increasing coffee consumption and a lower likelihood of death from cardiovascular disease and all other causes.??

And a 2014 review in Circulation, which looked at 53 other studies, found that people who drank 3-5 cups of coffee per day had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared with those who drank little to no cups of coffee, or six or more cups of coffee daily.??

Despite mounting evidence, experts warn that there are still too many other potential variables involved to definitively say that coffee can protect your heart health.

“It’s an interesting association, but at this point, that’s all it is. I would caution that we have to be careful distinguishing between associations and cause and effect studies,” says Pilar Stevens-Haynes, MD, FACC, director of echocardiography at Mount Sinai Heart at Mount Sinai South Nassau. “It would be a big leap to interpret the available information as coffee protects us from heart disease or heart failure.”

Nodar Janas, MD, a family medicine physician and medical director at Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation, adds: “It can be difficult to truly differentiate between the qualities and?characteristics?of?heavy?coffee drinkers from some other habits that may be common among their group. There are still many variables that need to be considered?and studied before a definitive correlation can be drawn between the two.”

Satjit Bhusri, MD

Coffee and caffeine are often considered by the general population to be 'bad' for the heart because people associate them with palpitations, high blood pressure, and more. The consistent relationship between increasing caffeine consumption and decreasing heart failure risk contradicts that assumption.

— Satjit Bhusri, MD

With that being said, the repeated findings on the association between coffee consumption and improved health outcomes may help dispel the long-standing belief that coffee is harmful, says Satjit Bhusri, MD, cardiologist and founder of Upper East Side Cardiology?

“Coffee and caffeine are often considered by the general population to be 'bad' for the heart because people associate them with palpitations, high blood pressure, and more,” he explains. “The consistent relationship between increasing caffeine consumption and decreasing heart failure risk contradicts that assumption.”

Exactly why coffee seems to have some health benefits remains unknown, but Dr. Bhusri suspects that it may have something to do with its diuretic effect, which “causes water loss through increased urination, thereby lowering central heart pressures and strain on the heart.”

He says that it may also have to do with the flavonoids in coffee that can serve as antioxidants that potentially protect the heart, but more research is needed.

How to Keep Your Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the main cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cardiovascular disease kills one in the country person every 36 seconds.???

There are a variety of things you can do to lower your risk of heart disease, though.?

Avoid smoking and limit how much alcohol you drink, says Dr. Stevens-Haynes.

“To help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, one of the simplest things to do is get up and move. Even moderate amounts of exercise can cut your risk of coronary artery disease,” adds Dr. Janas.

Managing stress, keeping your cholesterol levels and blood pressure within a normal range, and maintaining a healthy weight are also keys to keeping your heart healthy.??

Nodar Janas, MD

As a society, we love our big sugary drinks that clock in with hundreds of calories and dozens of grams of sugar. These are not the coffee drinks the study is referring to, so if your decision comes down to a large cup of sugar-filled coffee drinks or nothing, you’re better off choosing nothing.

— Nodar Janas, MD

As for coffee, there probably isn’t much of a reason to give up your morning brew if you enjoy it and you don’t experience negative side effects from the caffeine. Just be mindful about how you take your coffee, says Dr. Janas.

“If you pour yourself a cup of coffee, but then proceed to pour in cream and sugar, you’ve pretty much negated all health benefits,” he explains. “As a society, we love our big sugary drinks that clock in with hundreds of calories and dozens of grams of sugar. These are not the coffee drinks the study is referring to, so if your decision comes down to a large cup of sugar-filled coffee drinks or nothing, you’re better off choosing nothing.”

What This Means For You

While coffee has gotten a bad rap over the years, a new study has found that it may actually help reduce your risk of heart failure. It’s the latest in a series of research that has found an association between coffee and heart health benefits.?

With cardiovascular disease as the leading cause of death in the United States, it’s important to take measures to protect your heart. Coffee may play a role, but more research is needed. In the meantime, you can reduce your risk of heart disease by eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight.

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  2. Poole R, Kennedy OJ, Roderick P, Fallowfield JA, Hayes PC, Parkes J. Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes.?BMJ. 2017;359:j5024. Published November 22, 2017. doi:10.1136/bmj.j5024

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