Coffee alters arteries

Coffee is the subject of many conflicting reports as to its effect on cardiac health. Now a new study conducted on the Greek island of Ikaria has found that coffee may do good things for your arteries if you are prone to high blood pressure.

The study conducted between June and October 2009 was done on Ikaria because of the island’s high life expectancy. A much higher than usual portion of the Ikarian population live to over 90 years of age. The researchers wanted to find out what was behind the longevity of the population and examined factors that may impact heart health.

The lifestyle factors that they examined included family history, medical history, lifestyle, and dietary elements. Coffee was paid particular attention because it is so embedded in the social traditions of the Greek population.

Previous research has shown that coffee tends to increase blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure issues rather than those who have blood pressure in the normal range. So these researchers focussed on a group of subjects who had a history of high blood pressure.

Using non-invasive techniques, the researchers measured the “distensibility” of the aorta in these people. Distensibility refers to how flexible the blood vessels are, a low flexibility being linked to greater risk of heart disease. When they compared their dietary data to their blood vessel measurements, it was found that moderate coffee drinking was definitely linked to having more flexible blood vessels.

A few things need to be said about these findings. The researchers attributed some of this effect to polyphenols in the coffee such as cafestol and kahweol. Unfortunately, these polyphenols are high in some Greek coffee blends but not in all coffees. Secondly, the effects were shown in people disposed to high blood pressure only so the benefits for people with normal blood pressure may not apply.

Lastly, it is also difficult to separate the effects of the coffee from the life in which it is embedded. Get yourself to a Greek island, eat the Mediterranean diet that goes with moderate coffee consumption, and have the meaningful community experience that surrounds that coffee drinking and your heart will probably be a little more flexible too.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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