Caffeine Is Not a ‘Trigger’ for Atrial Fibrillation

Coffee drinkers are not at any greater risk for Afib

Recent research shows that atrial fibrillation (Afib) is not more common in people who drink a few cups of coffee a day compared to those who avoid caffeine entirely. Coffee drinkers concerned about their heart health will be happy to learn more about the research findings.

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A look at the study’s design

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed more than 30,000 women without heart disease or other major health problems. It reported that an increased level of caffeine consumption is not associated with an increased risk of Afib. Researchers tracked the women’s caffeine intake from coffee, tea, cola and chocolate and found essentially no difference in Afib risk between those who consumed the most and those who had the least.

Atrial fibrillation is a condition that causes the top two chambers of the heart (the atria) to essentially short-circuit as a result of rapid disorganized electrical firing. When functioning normally, the atria serve as the “fuel injectors” for the heart. They squeeze and push the blood into the main pumping chambers (the ventricles) to prime them with blood so that this blood can then be ejected and sent circulating through the body. When fibrillation develops in the atrium, these chambers lose the ability to squeeze and push the blood into the ventricles.

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There’s no single cause of Afib

There is no one cause of Afib, but many including, heart disease, poorly controlled high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, diabetes, previous heart attacks and congenital heart disease. Molecular cardiologist David Van Wagoner, PhD states, “Long-term studies in large groups of patients have associated coffee consumption with a lower risk of diabetes. In contrast, consumption of sugary drinks or snacks is associated with an increased risk of obesity and diabetes.”

Many patients identify specific triggers that are associated with the onset of their atrial fibrillation events. In light of these studies, avoiding coffee isn’t necessary, which is good news for patients who simply can’t function without their morning cup of Joe. However, it is a good idea to limit the added sugar in that cup of coffee and any accompanying snacks.

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Lastly, Dr. Van Wagoner adds, “One other point – drinking either hot or cold beverages can cause vagal stimulation, and this has been associated with triggering AF.  It has nothing to do with caffeine, but can nonetheless be a trigger.”

Conen, S. E. Chiuve, B. M. Everett, S. M. Zhang, J. E. Buring, and C. M. Albert. Caffeine consumption and incident atrial fibrillation in women. Am J Clin Nutr 92 (3):509-514, 2010.PMID:20573799

E. Salazar-Martinez, W. C. Willett, A. Ascherio, J. E. Manson, M. F. Leitzmann, M. J. Stampfer, and F. B. Hu. Coffee consumption and risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus. Ann.Intern Med 140 (1):1-8, 2004.PMID:14706966

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