Decaf coffee drinking found to benefit arterial function

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I’ve been a coffee drinker since childhood. At one point (when I was a student) I was drinking 10 or more mugs of instant coffee a day (each with two teaspoons of sugar in, I might add). As I got older, my tastes became more refined. I was persuaded by my older brother Joe to ditch the sugar (that’s two bad habits he has helped me kicked – see here for the other one).

I also stopped, though I can’t remember when, drinking instant coffee and rubbishy stuff out of vending machines. Now almost all the coffee I drink I make myself (espresso), though I will drink it in hotels or coffee bars if it’s half-decent.

The other major change I’ve made is that I hardly ever have caffeinated coffee now. I would only ever have caffeine in the morning, and didn’t imagine that I had a problem with it or anything. However, my girlfriend noticed that my coffee habit in the morning was becoming quite oppressive ” like I just couldn’t get on with my day unless my coffee intake was catered for, wherever we were, and whatever we were doing. It made me think I was perhaps more addicted than I cared to admit. So, about a year ago I took the plunge and gave up caffeinated coffee. It wasn’t as traumatic as I’d anticipated. And now my mornings are no longer punctuated with a ‘need’ for coffee. I still drink it in decaf form, though, because I love the taste and because water, quite frankly, can get a tad samey when it’s about all you drink.

The other good thing about switching to decaffeinated coffee has been that if I really need a boost of energy, a shot of espresso really does the job. It’s not uncommon for me to get up at a ridiculous time (say, 4.00 am) to get an early flight or get on the road to do some speaking somewhere, and if my energy is flagging before I get up to do my turn, I know that I can down an espresso and within a few minutes I’ll feel on top of my game. I don’t feel the need for such support very often, but it is nice to have caffeine to fall back on now and again.

One nagging doubt I’ve had about my switch to habitual consumption of decaf coffee relates to the fact that I generally like to consume foods in as natural an unadulterated form as possible. I do at least opt for naturally decaffeinated coffee (e.g. water or carbon dioxide methods of decaffeination). But all the same, I sometimes wonder if the decaffeination process robs coffee of some or all of its potential benefits for the body.

I was therefore interested to read of a recent study in which researchers tested the effects of decaffeinated coffee on what is known as ‘flow mediated dilatation’ (FMD) in a group of health men and women [1]. FMD essentially tests the ability of arteries to relax, which is something that is good for blood flow in the artery, and is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease risk. Reduced FMD is a sign of reduced health in the artery, and is a potential risk factor for heart attacks and stroke.

One cup of decaffeinated espresso was found to increase FMD. Two cups enhanced FMD even more. The researchers suggest that further research is required to assess the long-term effects of drinking decaffeinated coffee on the health of the cardiovascular system, especially in comparison to caffeinated coffee. In the meantime, the results of this study (and fact that I enjoy it) are more than enough reason for me to continue with my decaf coffee drinking for now.


1. S Buscemi, et al. Dose-dependent effects of decaffeinated coffee on endothelial function in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr 24th June 2009 [epub ahead of print publication]

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