Coffee has taken its share of lumps in recent years, but grounds for concern about coffee's apparent relationship with heart disease have shifted drastically.
Caffeine used to be considered the culprit, but caffeine may now be in the clear as de-caf, once the wise alternative, has come under suspicion.
The latest wisdom appeared last Thursday: Based on a study of 45,589 male medical professionals, Harvard researchers reported that up to six cups of caffeinated coffee per day had no ill effects in the heart or coronary arteries. Nor were there problems related to the additional caffeine consumed in tea, chocolate and colas. However, men who drank four or more cups of de-caf a day did seem to have higher incidence of heart attacks and strokes.
A year ago, another study showed an increase of cholesterol in people who switched from caffeinated to de-caf. But more recently, in September, Dr. Arthur Klatsky, chief of cardiology at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, Calif., reported an increase in heart attacks in people who drank more than four cups of regular or decaf.
"The bottom line is that the final answer isn't in yet," he says. But with what's known now, he advises, "People at risk of heart attack should consider limiting their intake to less than four cups of coffee a day; it doesn't matter whether it's regular or decaffeinated. To everybody else I would say: 'Don't worry.' "
"There is no evidence that having switched to de-caf has any benefit, except perhaps to your sleeping habits," says Dr. David Meyerson, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
"But people with heart rhythm disturbances should continue to avoid caffeine and caffeine-containing compounds unless specifically told otherwise by their doctor," he warns.