Think healthy aging means giving up your morning cup of joe? Think again. A caffeinated jolt in the morning may help prevent many age-related maladies, including dementia and heart health problems.
Coffee: A Potentially Heart-Healthy Addition to Your Day
Research suggests that coffee may improve heart health. But until recently, the mechanism through which caffeine improves health has remained elusive. A recent study of mice, published in the journal PLOS Biology, offers clarity.
Researchers studied heart attacks in mice, then looked at how caffeine changed the behavior of the cardiovascular system. The team found that caffeine influenced movement of a protein called p27 into the cells of the heart. Specifically, the protein helped the heart’s endothelial cells move. These cells line the blood vessels, suggesting that caffeine may activate a protein that supports healthy, elastic blood cells.
The study also found that p27 stimulated by caffeine prevented heart cells from dying during a heart attack. It also encouraged the differentiation of cells containing contractile fiber, which are vital for heart function.
As you age, your blood vessels can harden, increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke. By supporting healthy movement of the heart’s endothelial cells, your daily cup of coffee may slow the effects of time on your cardiovascular system.
Other Health Benefits of Caffeine
Caffeine is an antioxidant, which means it can help fight age-related oxidative damage. This can improve health in numerous ways, especially as you age. Some other potential benefits of drinking coffee include:
- Improving cognition. Caffeine may help prevent age-related mild cognitive impairment. It may also prevent or delay dementia. The Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia (CAIDE) study, which followed people from middle age into their seventies and beyond, found that caffeine may lower a senior’s lifetime risk of dementia.
- A lower risk of stroke. One study found that just one cup of coffee per week could slash stroke risk and heart failure.
- A longer life. A joint AARP-NIH study found that people who regularly drank coffee had a lower overall risk of death.
- Better mental health. Coffee offers a mood boost that can help you feel motivated and alert. It may also lower the risk of mental health issues such as depression.
- Lower cancer risk. One study found that drinking four cups of coffee a day could reduce the risk of developing oral cancer.
Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it increases activity in your central nervous system. This can make some people feel jittery or anxious, especially if they’re already prone to anxiety. Some other risks of drinking caffeine include:
- Diarrhea and gastrointestinal problems. Coffee can speed up digestion. Its high acid content may also make acid reflux worse.
- Rapid heart rate, which may be a problem in people with heart arrhythmias.
- Dehydration. This can stress the kidneys and make bladder infections worse.
- Elevated blood pressure. This effect is temporary, but may be dangerous in people with high blood pressure or serious cardiovascular health issues.
Tips for Healthy Caffeine Consumption
For most adults, about 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is safe. That’s roughly four cups of coffee. Most research on caffeine consumption looks at “moderate” consumption of three to five cups a day, so this seems to be the sweet spot.
People who take ephedrine, echinacea, and theophylline may be especially vulnerable to the effects of caffeine, so talk to a doctor about potential interactions. Then listen to your body. For some people, even moderate caffeine consumption can cause health issues. For some, even heavy caffeine consumption has no discernible effects.
You are more likely to experience caffeine-related side effects if you have:
- Urinary incontinence or frequent urination
- Muscle tremors
- Stomach problems
- Anxiety or restlessness
The health benefits of caffeine, especially for seniors, might come as a surprise. Aging is full of surprises. Want to learn more about healthy aging and explore why the next act of your life might be your best? Check out our guide, Questions You’re Afraid to Ask About Aging.