Coffee Can Reduce the Risk of Stroke

Coffee is a favorite pick-me-up enjoyed by people around the world. It's well known that a cup of coffee can give you energy, but research shows that it may have other health benefits, too.

According to a 2015 article published in Circulation, people who drink 1 to 5 cups of coffee per day may be less likely to die from certain cancers, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and more.

This article takes a closer look at the relationship between coffee and stroke risk.

Cup of fleshly brewed espresso with saucer and spoon on wooden table
Jorn Georg Tomter / The Image Bank / Getty Images

How Strokes Happen

Most people who have a stroke are between the ages of 55 and 85, but they can happen at any age.

There are two types of stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke happens when there is bleeding in the brain. An ischemic stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is cut off. At least 80% of strokes are ischemic.

Health conditions that increase your risk of stroke include:

  • High blood pressure: People with high blood pressure are two to four times more likely to have a stroke before they are 80.
  • Heart disease: Coronary artery disease and a type of irregular heart beat known as atrial fibrillation can result in blocked arteries or blood clots that travel to the brain.
  • Diabetes: High blood sugar can damage blood vessels and eventually cause arteries to harden. This is known as atherosclerosis, and it results in narrowed and blocked arteries.
  • High LDL cholesterol: Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol that is too high can also lead to atherosclerosis.

You may be more at risk of stroke if it runs in your family. But you can reduce your risk by making healthy lifestyle choices that protect your heart and the arteries that supply blood to your brain.

Coffee and Your Heart

Coffee is made from the roasted beans of the coffee plant. It contains a high level of caffeine, but there's more to it than that. Coffee contains over 1,000 different chemical compounds, some of which may reduce your risk of stroke.

Among those compounds are carbohydrates, proteins, oils, and minerals that your body needs to stay healthy, like magnesium and chromium. These minerals can lower blood sugar and insulin, thus helping protect against diabetes and atherosclerosis.

Coffee is also rich with antioxidants—molecules found in healthy foods that protect your cells from being damaged by free radicals.

Your body produces free radicals when you are exposed to air pollution, cigarette smoke, and other toxins. Over time, free radicals can damage your blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

In theory, drinking coffee could benefit your heart. But that might depend on how you prepare it.

Health Concerns

Coffee is a stimulant, which means that it makes your central nervous system more active. This is why drinking it makes you feel energized, alert, and possibly a bit jittery.

Stimulants also cause your heart to beat faster and raise your blood pressure. This leads some physicians to recommend against drinking coffee, particularly for people who have high blood pressure or an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia).

While it is true that caffeine causes a spike in blood pressure, that spike doesn't last long. One study found that caffeine does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease over the long term, even in people who have high blood pressure to begin with.

Other studies show that the relationship between caffeine and arrhythmia is weak. In fact, drinking up to 300 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day may protect against arrhythmia. Researchers note that this likely has to do with the heart-healthy antioxidants in coffee and tea.

How much caffeine does coffee have?

There are about 80 to 100 milligrams of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup of coffee. Decaf coffee still contains a small amount of caffeine as well—about 2 to 15 milligrams per 8-ounce cup.

On the other hand, it's possible that drinking unfiltered coffee regularly could raise your LDL cholesterol over time.

Two coffee oils that are present in coffee beans—cafestol and kahweol—are known to have this effect. Unfiltered coffee, such as French press, boiled, or Turkish coffee, does not remove coffee oils.

If you are concerned about your cholesterol, choose a brewing method that uses a paper filter instead. Brew filtered coffee using a drip coffee maker or learn to make a pour-over.

You may also want to consider tea instead; studies have found that drinking green tea and black tea can help lower LDL cholesterol.

Coffee and Stroke Risk

When researchers reviewed 351 studies on the health effects of coffee, they found that people who drank coffee regularly were less likely to die from stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and more. People who drank 3 to 4 cups per day seemed to benefit the most.

Another study of 76,979 people between the ages of 40 and 79 revealed similar results. Men and women who drank up to 6 cups of caffeinated coffee or tea per day were at least 22% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or stroke.

Research also shows that people who drink coffee may be less likely to develop blood clots. In one study, people who drank coffee were 30% less likely to have a blood clot than people who didn't drink coffee.

All in all, the evidence suggests that the antioxidants in coffee may:

  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Improve insulin sensitivity for people with diabetes
  • Protect your cells from damage due to free radicals
  • Lower your LDL cholesterol
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Improve blood flow
  • Keep your your veins and arteries healthy

Caffeine Safety

Despite the health benefits of coffee, there are still risks involved with caffeine.

Large doses of caffeine—like those found in caffeine pills and energy drinks—can cause a dangerous physical reaction called vasospasm.

Vasospasm occurs when blood vessels suddenly close off. As a result, normal blood flow to the brain is interrupted—causing an ischemic stroke or a hemorrhagic stroke.

Energy drinks are far more likely to cause vasospasm than coffee. That's because many energy drinks contain three times more caffeine than coffee.

On top of that, energy drinks often have added ingredients that also contain caffeine, like guarana. But because the product's packaging does not make this clear, people who drink them cannot be sure how much caffeine they are actually consuming.

If you prefer energy drinks over coffee and tea, be sure to read the labels. Look for ingredients like guarana extract, taurine, glucuronolactone, L-carnitine, and ginseng extract. Caffeinated drinks with these ingredients may increase your risk of stroke.

Some over-the-counter diuretics, pain medicines, and cold medicines also contain caffeine. Always check labels for caffeine and take medications as directed.

How Much Caffeine Is Safe?

According to the FDA, it is safe to consume as much as 400 mg of caffeine per day—about four to five cups of coffee. However, if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, drinking caffeine is not advised.

Keep in mind that some people can tolerate more caffeine than others. You may be more sensitive to caffeine if you experience the following symptoms:

  • You have trouble falling asleep at night
  • You feel shaky or jittery
  • You feel anxious or unhappy
  • Your heart beat is noticeably fast
  • You have an upset stomach
  • You feel nauseous or have headaches

These are all signs that you should cut down on your caffeine intake. If coffee is too much for you, consider switching to decaf or trying green tea.

Summary

Substances in coffee, such as antioxidants, may reduce your risk of stroke by lowering your blood pressure, your LDL cholesterol, and more. If you have high LDL cholesterol, opt for a brewing method that filters the coffee. Whether you prefer coffee, tea, or energy drinks, take care to only consume caffeine in moderation.

A Word From Verywell

Drinking black coffee is not for everyone. But loading your coffee with cream and sugar is not healthy for your heart. There are many alternatives you can try to add a touch of flavor and sweetness to your coffee. Instead of sugary creamers, try coconut cream, vanilla extract, or a dash of cinnamon. It might take a little while to find a combination you like, but your heart will thank you.

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