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Don't Worry, Drink Coffee: American Heart Month, Day 15

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Good news, coffee drinkers. In addition to the recent Harvard Nurses Study that followed more than 50,000 participants for 10 years and demonstrated that coffee cuts depression in women, Heart 411: The Only Guide to Heart Health You'll Ever Need reports that perennial "bad boy" coffee is actually heart healthy -- maybe even protective.

For habitual coffee drinkers, caffeine from two cups of coffee will increase blood pressure two or three mm Hg, but the effect is temporary -- and non-existent for many regular coffee drinkers. Heart rate, too, may briefly increase, but coffee is not a culprit or usual cause of abnormal heart rhythms.

Filtered coffee removes the oils that can raise total and LDL cholesterol levels, so most coffee doesn't affect "bad" cholesterol levels. Studies have suggested that coffee makes arteries stiff. Buzz! Sorry, it seems two cups of coffee a day actually cause arteries to relax. The "happiness effect" for women kicks in around the same time.

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Past research has suggested a link between coffee and a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, and now Chinese researchers think they may know why. Three major compounds in coffee may provide beneficial effects: caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid and caffeine.

"These findings suggest that the beneficial effects of coffee consumption on type 2 diabetes mellitus may be partly due to the ability of the major coffee components and metabolites to inhibit the toxic aggregation of hIAPP [human islet amyloid polypeptide]," Ling Zheng, professor of cellular biology at Wuhan University in China, and colleagues wrote.

Despite 20 years of reassuring research, many people still avoid caffeinated coffee because they worry about its health effects. But research continues to confirm that -- in moderation -- a few cups a day is safe and even beneficial to heart health.

In 2004, Harvard Women's Health Watch reported some of coffee's lesser known potential benefits like: lowered risk of gallstones and colon cancer, improved cognitive function, reduction of liver damage for some and reduction of Parkinson's disease for others. Coffee has also been shown to improve endurance performance in long-duration physical activities.

Spreading coffee drinking throughout your day works best for those trying to stay alert due to sleep deprivation (which of course we aren't advocating because you should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep a night).

People with chronic heart disease, however, should consult their physicians about personal risks before chugging down daily mocha. Coffee drinkers who also consume excessive alcohol may lose any positive advantage of coffee drinking.

Au lait! See you tomorrow.

Images via Getty.

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Heart attack survivors, please click on the blue Public Service banner above and take the Yale Heart Study. If you haven't had a heart attack, click and forward to someone you love who has had a heart attack. Thank you.

Disclosure: Suzanne O'Malley is a Senior Research Associate for the non-profit NIH-funded Yale Heart Study, a Faculty member of the Yale Writers' Conference & Associate/Director of Yale Summer Film Institute.

For more by Suzanne O'Malley, click here.

For more on personal health, click here.

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