Enjoy That Cup: New Study Suggests Caffeine Does Not Cause Palpitations

There is a new reason for coffee lovers to enjoy that cup. Contrary to common belief, regular caffeine intake does not lead to extra heartbeats, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found.

Though extra heartbeats or palpitations may be common, these may, in rare cases, lead to morbidity and mortality related to stroke and heart disease. The study challenges existing medical belief that caffeine intake can lead to irregular heart rhythms that may result in health problems in the future.

"Clinical recommendations advising against the regular consumption of caffeinated products to prevent disturbances of the heart's cardiac rhythm should be reconsidered, as we may unnecessarily be discouraging consumption of items like chocolate, coffee and tea that might actually have cardiovascular benefits," Dr. Gregory Marcus, UCSF Health cardiologist, said.

In the study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, 1,388 healthy people were assessed based on their tea, chocolate and coffee consumption over the course of 12 months. The participants also wore portable devices that constantly monitored their heart rhythms for 24 hours.

The researchers randomly selected the participants from about 6,000 patients from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Cardiovascular Health Study database. Out of the participants, 840 or 61 percent drank more than one caffeinated drink each day.

The team looked specifically at coffee, chocolate and tea and did not include energy drinks that were high in caffeine. They found no differences in the number of premature atrial contractions (PACs) and premature ventricular contractions (PVCs). Notably, higher consumption of caffeine products was not linked to palpitations.

"This was the first community-based sample to look at the impact of caffeine on extra heartbeats, as previous studies looked at people with known arrhythmias," said Shalini Dixit, a medical student at the UCSF and lead author of the study.

PACs and PVCs are both linked to serious complications. PACs are said to result in atrial fibrillation, stroke and death. PVCs, on the other hand, are linked to an increased risk of coronary artery disease, heart failure and even death.

Current guidelines by the American Heart Association state that if a patient's history shows consistent occurrence of premature extra heartbeats, aggravating factors like consumption of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine should be avoided.

The researchers suggest, however, that the relationship between caffeine intake and its effects on extra heartbeats still requires further study and investigation.

Photo: Susanne Nilsson | Flickr 

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