Drinking Three Cups of Coffee a Day Reduces Risk of Heart Attacks

A cappuccino is pictured on a table at Irving Farm Coffee Roasters in the Manhattan borough of New York September 23, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Drinking as many as five cups of coffee a day could decrease the risk of heart attacks and clogged arteries, according to new research.

The study examined the link between coffee consumption and coronary artery calcium (CAC), which is an early indicator of cardiovascular disease - the clogging of arteries - which can result in heart attacks.

Assessing 25,138 men and women with an average age of 41 and no signs of heart disease, a team of researchers based at the Kangbuk Samsung Hospital in Seoul, South Korea found that the more coffee was consumed, the lower the detectable calcium levels in the test subjects, up to a point.

Those who drank less than one cup of coffee a day had average calcium ratios of 0.77, one to three cups had 0.66, and those drinking three to five cups a day had the lowest levels at 0.59, compared to non-coffee drinkers. However, people who drank more than five cups a day were found to have a calcium ratio of 0.81.

The team behind the research admit they aren't actually sure why coffee has these health benefits. "We don't know," says one of the researchers, Dr Eliseo Guallar from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the U.S. "Antioxidants in coffee may reduce the risk of disease. We are doing some additional research but the type we do is not mechanistic. We are collaborating with other research teams on this issue."

Coffee has been connected with health risks in the past, with some research indicating increased risk of certain cancers and heart disease with coffee consumption. However, as Dr Rob van Dam, an assistant professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, pointed out studying coffee's effects on health can be complicated. "Drinking coffee often goes along together with cigarette smoking, and with a lifestyle that's not very health conscious… So in the early studies on coffee and health, it was hard to separate the effects of coffee from the effects of smoking or other lifestyle choices."

Dr Guallar says that these most recent results add to a growing body of research that shows that coffee can have certain health benefits.

"People who have diabetes are more likely to have coronary heart disease. Coffee has also been inversely associated with the risk of diabetes in separate studies. Many of these things are connected because they share common causes," he says.

Dr Guallar believes his team's results will help change the view which some people hold that drinking coffee is damaging to one's health: "It's good news because coffee intake is common and this is an intake that we have to remove from the list of health concerns," he says.

However, Dr Guallar is emphasises that he will not be prescribing coffee-drinking as a preventative treatment anytime soon. "Its difficult to say: 'If you drink X amount of coffee you'll have X amount of [heart attacks]," he says.

"The message is if you drink coffee don't worry. We are not ready to say people should drink more coffee, but if you do drink it, you shouldn't worry," he concludes.

This report is not the only positive press that caffeinated drinks have had in recent days. An American study into tea which was published in mid-February found that the beverage could help prevent diabetes.