Can I Drink Coffee After a Heart Attack?

Man staring at coffee

For many of us, coffee is an essential component of our day and it can make a huge difference to our mood.

Some people also wonder whether you can drink coffee after a heart attack and what impact that practice would have.

But, there’s considerable debate about just how healthy (or unhealthy) this practice is.

I’ll be the first to admit that I like my coffee, especially first thing in the morning.

Likewise, I know many people that feel the same. To be honest, this is one of the few habits that I’d keep even if it ended up being unhealthy.

But, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Instead, researchers have been finding a wide range of different reasons why coffee is good for you, provided that you don’t load up on the sugar and cream. For example, did you know that coffee is one of our key sources of antioxidants? As you can probably imagine, coffee isn’t as high in antioxidants as tart cherry juice or pomegranate juice but we still get a lot of antioxidants from coffee just because we drink so much of it.

Out of the various health benefits, the most interesting one is the idea that coffee can actually make you live longer.

One study on this topic found that people drinking 1 to 3 cups of coffee per day had the lowest risk of death. Additionally, anyone drinking between 1 and 5 cups of coffee per day had a lower risk of death than those who drank no coffee (1).

Such effects have been reported elsewhere too, including sites like BBC News

That’s a pretty powerful outcome.

The authors of the study found that the coffee consumption appeared to decrease the risk of death from heart disease and also from type 2 diabetes (2).

But, none of those outcomes really look at whether you should drink coffee after a heart attack. Instead, most of the research tends to focus on healthy populations.

In this post, we’re focusing on a different research study, (Brown, Allgar & Wong, 2016) one that is an expansion of some of the concepts I mentioned. In this case, the authors were interested in seeing whether coffee also has a protective impact on people who have already suffered a heart attack.

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The Study Itself

Hand with coffee

This study was designed as a meta-analysis, where the authors look at the outcomes from multiple different studies.

However, in this case, the authors only actually found two studies that met their criteria, which makes for an extremely small meta-analysis.

Combined, the studies being considered involved 3,271 patients, of whom 604 died. The participants could be broken down into 3 groups based on coffee consumption, those groups were as follows:

  • Non-Coffee Drinkers: 0 cups per day
  • Light Coffee Drinkers: 1-2 cups per day
  • Heavy Coffee Drinkers: 2+ cups per day

When the outcomes were analyzed statistically, the authors found that the heavy coffee drinkers had a lower risk of death than both the light coffee drinkers and the people that did not drink coffee. Likewise, the light coffee drinkers had a lower risk of death than those who did not drink coffee.

These outcomes indicate that regularly drinking coffee is associated with a decrease in risk of death for people who have previously had a heart attack. That is the same pattern that has been observed in the general population, as I discussed earlier.

Additionally, the study showed a dose-specific response, where higher amounts of coffee resulted in a greater decrease in the risk of death.

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Strengths and Limitations

Girl in hat with coffee

As with many research studies on this topic, the key limitation of this study was that it was observational. This means that the authors used data from a large number of people to determine the relationship between coffee consumption and risk of death.

This approach is very powerful in some ways and limited in others.

The limitation is that researchers cannot test cause and effect. So, there is no way of knowing whether the coffee consumption actually caused the decreased risk of death, or whether there was another factor involved.

For example, one alternative explanation is that people at a higher risk of death were less likely to drink coffee. This is known as reverse causation (because the cause and effect are the opposite of what the researchers are proposing). The pattern is also possible, because some people may drink less coffee if they are worried about their health or may drink less coffee because they feel sick.

Another possible explanation is that an external factor affected both coffee consumption and risk of death. One example of that could be lifestyle. The nature of the research means that these alternatives cannot be ruled out.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t make the study invalid.

After all, the potential for coffee to increase life expectancy is the most logical outcome – and there are some mechanisms by which this can happen. Likewise, other research has shown similar outcomes, which shows that the conclusions here aren’t just a fluke.

One other limitation is that the study looks at self-reported information for how much coffee people consume. However, people may vary their coffee consumption over time for a wide range of different reasons.

For example, you may drink more coffee if you’re heavily stressed and not getting enough sleep. But, when your situation changed, you would probably find that your coffee consumption decreased.

Drinking hot coffee

This study doesn’t take that change into consideration and instead assumes that coffee consumption levels remain consistent across time. While this is the only practical way of conducting the study, it is a major limitation.

Finally, the study is also a little bit unusual in how it defines heavy coffee consumption.

Many research studies into coffee consumption use groups such as no coffee, 1-3 cups per day, 3.1 -5 cups and 5+ cups per day.

In this case, the authors had just 3 groups and defined anyone who had more than 2 cups of coffee per day as a heavy coffee drinker.

Personally, I disagree. Having 2 cups of coffee per day is fairly normal and there isn’t really much difference between 1 and 2 cups per day anyway.

I would be more interested in knowing what the pattern was for higher levels of consumption but unfortunately, this study does not consider that.

Nevertheless, it is also important to note that observational research is the most practical approach for studying the risk of death, especially when you’re looking at long-term impacts.

The alternative would be to conduct some type of experimental study, where you had people drinking different amounts of coffee across an extended period of time. Doing this would be extremely expensive and impractical.

The authors did also use statistical methods to decrease the chance of any errors and to make sure that there were no factors that influenced the outcomes. As such, the study was still a strong one, despite the limitations that it has.

Should You Be Drinking Coffee After a Heart Attack?

Even though it is observational, this study offers additional support to the theory that coffee can decrease the risk of death from heart disease. Furthermore, this study indicates that this pattern is not just present in healthy population but that it also applies to those who have suffered a heart attack in the past.

While the study on its own is certainly not conclusive, it is one more piece of evidence supporting the idea that coffee is really good for health. Plus, the research shows that drinking coffee after a heart attack is likely to be good for you and isn’t a bad practice.

Realistically, the main issue with too much coffee would be caffeine. The site Caffeine Informer offers a powerful guide that shows how much caffeine is too much.

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What about you? Are you a regular coffee drinker?​

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