I’m on an anti-statin roll today.
I just got my February issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which contains a wonderful article on the heart disease prevention properties of caffeine. In a prospective study of 6596 subjects, aged 32-86, lasting 8.8 years, researchers found that caffeine (delivered via coffee, primarily) prevented the development of heart disease and heart-disease mortality in numbers that would make the CEOs of any statin-manufacturing pharmaceutical companies wet themselves.
Based on the data, adults over the age of 65 who consumed the equivalent of greater than 4 cups of coffee per day had a whopping halving of the risk (actually, a little greater than half) for death from heart disease, a statistic that no statin research can even come close to. The great thing about the caffeine data is that there is a dose-response curve. A dose-response curve is one that shows an increasing effect with increasing dose of the drug in question. In the case of caffeine, the smaller the dose, the smaller the benefit: from a half cup to two cups per day, the risk drops about 23%; from 2 cups to 4 cups per day, the risk drops by 32%; more than 4 cups per day, a 53% decrease in risk.
What about subjects under the age of 65? The data didn’t show any decreased risk, but I suspect the reason is that not enough of those people developed heart disease or died from it during the 8.8 years of the study to make the findings statistically significant.
Also, all the subjects were free of heart disease at the start of the study, so the study doesn’t address the possible protective effects of caffeine on people who already have developed heart disease.
If you remember from the statin data, there has been no data showing that statins confer any protection for people who don’t already have heart disease, yet the vast majority of people taking statins fall into this category. For those people, it would seem that the better strategy would be to ditch the statins with all their attendant side effects and grab a cup (or four) of Joe every day. Fewer side effects, much more enjoyment, and prevent heart disease to boot (not to mention diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s).
Based on the results of this study, Starbucks prevents more heart disease than all the drug companies put together.
Addendum: In my rush to get this post into print I overlooked a couple of things that I really need to address. First, we can’t really compare these coffee studies head to head against statins because the statin studies were double-blind, placebo-controlled studies; this coffee study was a prospective epidemioligical study. In this coffee study researchers looked at the coffee consumption habits of the subjects, interviewed them over the years to confirm their reported consumption, then waited to see how many developed problems. To be able to compare this study legitimately against the statin studies, the researchers would have randomized their subjects (none of whom were coffee drinkers) into two groups, then provided coffee in various ‘doses’ to one group and a placebo that looked and tasted like coffee to the other. Neither the subjects nor the researchers would know which group had the coffee and which had the ersatz coffee. Then, after a period of time, the codes as to who had what would be opened and the data tabulated. If it turned out then that the subjects who drank the real coffee had much less risk of developing heart disease than the ones who didn’t, we could say that coffee decreases the risk more than statins.
Having said all that, I can still say that there are many, many studies out there indicating that coffee has a protective effect against heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes. So I highly recommend it. In fact, I’ll go on record as saying that if we could have a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of coffee I predict that coffee would be much more protective against heart disease than the statins. But I can’t really say it from this study.