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Study Shows No Need to Shun Coffee to Keep Heart Rhythm Regular

Doctors often tell patients to avoid caffeinated coffee to keep their heart rhythm regular. According to a new study, that isn't necessary.
Study Shows No Need to Shun Coffee to Keep Heart Rhythm Regu...
Cheerful young african american woman relaxing in cozy kitchen, drinking coffee. Joyful millennial black female with braces and braids holding cup, enjoying hot drink at home and smiling at camera

Coffee has a bad reputation when it comes to irregular heart rhythms. Doctors often tell patients to avoid caffeinated coffee to keep their heart rhythm regular. A new study contradicts that conventional wisdom, however (JAMA Internal Medicine, online July 19, 2021).

Does Coffee Trigger Arrhythmias?

Researchers posed this question:

“Is moderate, habitual coffee intake associated with the risk of arrhythmia, and is that association modified by genetic variants that affect caffeine metabolism?”

To answer it, they analyzed data from the UK Biobank over a decade. This review included nearly 400,000 people. Those who usually drank coffee were no more likely to develop rhythm disturbances than those who avoided coffee. In addition, people who are genetically predisposed to metabolize caffeine slowly were no more susceptible to irregular heart rhythms.

Could Coffee Actually Help Keep Your Heart Rhythm Regular?

Even more intriguing, this analysis hints that each additional cup of coffee a person drinks per day lowers the risk of arrhythmias by roughly 3 percent. The authors offer several possible mechanisms, including coffee’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Of course, no one should rely on coffee or caffeine to control heart rhythm irregularities. And some people can’t tolerate coffee at all. But health care professionals should probably revise their unfounded prohibition of coffee to prevent heart rhythm problems.

An invited commentary concludes:

“The current study suggests that we can tell patients that waking up to a cup of coffee is not a dangerous ritual.”

That could come as good news to a person who wrote to us a number of years ago. His wife urged him to shun tea as well as coffee.

Coffee and Atrial Fibrillation:

Q. Ten years ago I experienced atrial fibrillation three times in one month. It never recurred until recently.

My wife has suggested that I should refrain from eating or drinking anything that contains caffeine. I dislike coffee but I do enjoy drinking good green tea. Does it contain caffeine? How about chocolate? Thanks for your advice.

A. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to blood clots in the upper chambers of the heart. That’s why doctors try to reverse the arrhythmia or prescribe blood-thinning medicine.

Your wife’s advice to avoid caffeine is common but unsubstantiated. One epidemiological study found no connection between caffeine consumption and the risk of atrial fib (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March, 2005). An experiment in dogs suggested that caffeine might actually be beneficial (Journal of Electrocardiology, Oct. 2006).

Green tea and chocolate both contain much less caffeine than coffee. Moderate consumption should not pose a problem, but do check with your doctor. When you do, have the study from JAMA Internal Medicine at hand. That way, the two of you can determine the best way to keep your heart rhythm regular.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Kim E-j et al, "Coffee consumption and incident tachyarrhythmias: Reported behavior, Mendelian randomization, and their interactions." JAMA Internal Medicine, online July 19, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.3616
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