Coffee is widely consumed in the Western diet and therefore has important implications for public health. Research findings pertaining to the effects of coffee consumption on cardiovascular health are conflicting, and the role of caffeine is not clear.
To examine the relationship between coffee intake, inflammation and cardiovascular function at baseline and during mental stress, both cross-sectionally and after a 4-week period of withdrawal of coffee during which intake of caffeine was maintained.
Eighty-five healthy, non-smoking men with varying coffee-drinking habits were recruited. Blood pressure, heart rate, and markers of inflammation [C-reactive protein (CRP), von Willebrand factor antigen (vWF)], were measured at baseline and during mental stress. These measures were repeated after a 4-week period of withdrawal of coffee, during which intake of caffeine was maintained. Habitual levels of coffee and caffeine consumption were assessed from a self-reported questionnaire, and saliva samples for the analysis of caffeine concentrations were collected regularly throughout the period of withdrawal, to confirm compliance.
Multiple linear regression analysis of pre-withdrawal data, adjusted for age, body mass index and intake of tea, red wine, fruit, vegetables, oily fish and dietary supplements revealed that coffee consumption was positively related to baseline systolic blood pressure, and increased heart rate and vWF responses to mental stress. Four weeks after withdrawal of coffee, the heightened vWF and heart rate responses to stress in habitual coffee drinkers persisted, whereas baseline systolic blood pressure had decreased. Total caffeine intake was unrelated to any measures of physiological function.
Habitual coffee consumption is associated with heightened acute vascular inflammatory responses to mental stress, although these effects are not affected by short-term abstinence from coffee. These findings suggest that the relationship between coffee and markers of cardiovascular risk may be explained by residual or unmeasured confounding factors.