Drinking This Much Coffee Could Help Keep Your Heart Healthy, Study Suggests

Scientists have investigated how coffee affects our cells. Getty Images

Drinking four cups of coffee a day could trigger a process that protects heart cells, according to research.

Researchers investigating the link between coffee and heart health found caffeine helps a special regulatory protein move into the powerhouse of our cells known as the mitochondria. Regulatory proteins bind to specific parts of the DNA and play a role in how genes are expressed. This involves helping to protect cardiovascular cells from damage.

The team based in Germany investigated how caffeine affects a protein called p27 found in mitochondria in the major cells of the heart. They found the equivalent of four or more espresso shots was enough to help to protect from cell death, and boost processes that help the organ to recover after a heart attack.

The study involved older, pre-diabetic, obese, mice; human cells and the results of epidemiological studies involving around 400,000 people, study author professor Judith Haendeler of the IUF-Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Duesseldorf told Newsweek. The results were published in the journal PLOS Biology.

Professor Haendeler said in a statement: "These results should lead to better strategies for protecting heart muscle from damage, including consideration of coffee consumption or caffeine as an additional dietary factor in the elderly population."

"Furthermore, enhancing mitochondrial p27 could serve as a potential therapeutic strategy not only in cardiovascular diseases but also in improving healthspan."

She told Newsweek: "There is something to this four or more cups of coffee which seems to be protective."

But she warned the public not to take the results to mean that coffee is all that is needed to protect the heart. "Don't [just] take caffeine pills, stop eating a healthy diet and exercising and be a couch potato," she said.

Previously, the team found that the equivalent of four or more cups of coffee a day improved the function of endothelial cells, which line the blood vessels.

Lead author of the study Joachim Altschmied of Heinrich Heine-University in Düesseldorf told Scientific American: "The old idea that you shouldn't drink coffee if you have heart problems is clearly not the case anymore."

This is the latest study to point to the health benefits of coffee. A review of more than 100 studies into caffeine and coffee published in the Annual Review of Nutrition in 2017 linked both to lower heart disease risk and type 2 diabetes. They were also associated with a lower risk of breast, colorectal, colon endometrial and prostate cancers.

"Given the spectrum of conditions studied and the robustness of many of the results, these findings indicate that coffee can be part of a healthful diet," the authors of the study concluded at the time.