A coffee a day might be enough to keep the doctor away. For researchers have found coffee lovers tend to have lower blood pressure and healthier hearts. And the benefits might be achieved by drinking just one cup each morning, they claimed.
Italian experts described coffee’s positive effects as being ‘very clear’.
The findings, from a study of more than 1,500 people, add to the growing body of evidence highlighting the drink’s health benefits.
Some research has linked it to reducing the risk of heart disease, heart failure and strokes, while other studies report it prolongs life.
But medics remain divided, warning that excessive amounts of coffee — packed full of caffeine — can actually damage the heart. The NHS says any more than four cups a day can increase blood pressure. Yet, the new study, in the journal Nutrients, found that people who consumed this amount had lower blood pressure than non-drinkers.
The University of Bologna and University Hospital of Bologna study involved 720 men and 783 women. Experts compared blood pressure levels against the volunteers’ coffee consumption habits. Of the participants, 220 (14.6 per cent) did not drink coffee, 406 (27 per cent) drank one cup daily, while 726 consumed two coffees every day. Some 99 volunteers drank three cups, while 52 consumed more than that every day.
Active smokers were equally distributed among the subgroups, allowing experts to rule out that potential explanation.
Researchers found that systolic blood pressure (SBP) — the top number — ‘tended to decrease’ as the number of cups consumed increased. Those who drank one cup per day recorded an SBP of 1mmHg lower on average than non-coffee drinkers, while people who consumed two cups saw an SBP of 5.2mmHg smaller.
Scientists also reported people drinking three cups recorded an average drop in SBP of 5mmHg.
Overall, those who consumed more than three cups saw an average SBP of 9.7 mmHg smaller, compared to non-coffee drinkers. But the researchers did not say this was a good amount.
An ideal systolic blood pressure, which indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats, is between 90 to 120mmHg, according to the NHS. Similar decreases were seen for the three other types of blood pressure studied.
People who drank more than three cups a day recorded decreases of 6.9mmHg in pulse pressure, 9.5mmHg in aortic blood pressure and 6.9mmHg in aortic pulse pressure, in comparison to non-coffee drinkers.
Lowering blood pressure can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, including strokes and heart attacks and helps keep the heart and blood vessels in good condition.
Arrigo Cicero, one of the researchers, said: ‘The results are very clear. Peripheral blood pressure was significantly lower in individuals consuming one to three cups of coffee a day than in non-coffee drinkers.
‘We know caffeine can increase blood pressure, but other bioactive components in coffee seem to counterbalance this effect with a positive end result on blood pressure levels.’
Researchers acknowledged that the coffee consumption was self-reported by volunteers, so may have been underreported, limiting the findings. It was also assessed without detailing the roast used, preparation methods or whether it was consumed black or with either milk or cream.
Those who drank more than three cups a day were grouped together ‘to compare more balanced groups of subjects’ as it was a relatively smaller category, researchers also noted.
The European Food Safety Agency says a daily intake of 400mg caffeine — equal to four cups of coffee — is fine for most adults. But individual sensitivity to caffeine varies. Some people can tolerate six-plus cups a day very well, and others feel jittery after one or two. Pregnant women are advised to stick to 200mg caffeine a day — around two cups of instant coffee — according to the NHS. Excessive caffeine consumption has been linked with low birth weight.