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Coffee May Cut Risk of Heart Rhythm Problems

Study Shows Possible Heart Benefits From Moderate Drinking of Caffeinated Coffee
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 2, 2010 -- People with disturbances in their heart rhythms are often advised to avoid caffeinated coffee, but a new study shows that moderate coffee drinking actually reduces the risk of being hospitalized for heart rhythm problems.

''People who reported four or more cups a day had almost an 18% reduction in the risk of being hospitalized for rhythm disturbances," says study researcher Arthur L. Klatsky, MD,  senior consultant in cardiology at Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif.

The findings are due to be presented at this week's American Heart Association's 50th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention in San Francisco.

While experts have long known that very large doses of caffeine, coffee's most active ingredient, are linked with rhythm disturbances, less research has been done on the effect of typical daily coffee intake. The results are somewhat surprising, Klatsky says, since patients sometimes report feeling palpitations after drinking coffee.

Klatsky and his team evaluated data from more than 130,000 members of Kaiser Permanente, a large prepaid health care plan. During routine health exams over the years 1978 to 1985, participants provided information about coffee drinking and other habits such as drinking alcohol or smoking.

''We followed up this large group until 2008," Klatsky says.

The findings showed:

  • 27% did not drink coffee.
  • 14% had less than a cup a day.
  • 42% had one to three cups a day.
  • 17% had four or more cups a day.

Over the course of the follow-up, 3,137 people had a hospital discharge diagnosis of cardiac dysrhythmia. ''Half of the people had atrial fibrillation," Klatsky tells WebMD. In atrial fibrillation, the heart's two small upper chambers, or atria, quiver instead of beating effectively.

About 2.2 million Americans have atrial fibrillation, according to the American Heart Association. About 15% of those who suffer a stroke have the disorder.

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