Have you ever thought of this? Oh yes! Caffeine can cause a short, but dramatic increase in your blood pressure, even if you don’t have high blood pressure. It’s unclear what causes this spike in blood pressure.
Coffee does raise blood pressure in people who are not used to it but not in regular coffee drinkers; youngsters appear more sensitive to coffee. And the hypertensive effects of coffee seem to depend on ingredients other than caffeine. Habitual coffee drinkers become acclimated to these ingredients so their pressures don’t rise more than a point or two, but people who are not used to coffee can expect a temporary rise in their pressures after drinking regular or decaf.
Some researchers believe that caffeine could block a hormone that helps keep your arteries widened. Others think that caffeine causes your adrenal glands to release more adrenaline, which causes your blood pressure to increase.
Some people who regularly drink caffeinated beverages have a higher average blood pressure than do those who drink none. Others who regularly drink caffeinated beverages develop a tolerance to caffeine. As a result, caffeine doesn’t have a long-term effect on their blood pressure.
If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor whether you should limit or stop drinking caffeinated beverages. If you’re concerned about caffeine’s effect on your blood pressure, try limiting the amount of caffeine you drink.
Also, if you have high blood pressure, avoid caffeine right before activities that naturally increase your blood pressure, such as exercise, weightlifting or hard physical labor.
To see if caffeine might be raising your BP, check your BP before drinking a cup of coffee or other caffeinated beverage and again 30 to 120 minutes afterward. If your BP increases by about five to 10 points, you may be sensitive to the BP raising effects of caffeine. If you plan to cut back on caffeine, do so gradually over several days to a week to avoid withdrawal headaches.
Blood pressure is an important predictor of heart attack and stroke. Even if coffee doesn’t raise blood pressure in regular drinkers, does it live up to its reputation as a cause of heart disease?
Coffee is a complex brew, and it has many effects beyond the cardiovascular system. Some people benefit from increased alertness, but for others the neurological actions of coffee include insomnia, anxiety, or tremors. Habitual coffee drinkers develop a mild dependence, so sudden withdrawal can trigger temporary headaches or depression. Migraine sufferers may have an attack triggered by a sudden increase or decrease in coffee consumption.
Some coffee drinkers benefit from an increase in bowel motility, which relieves constipation, but others develop gastroesophageal reflux and heartburn. The Harvard studies suggest that coffee drinkers enjoy a reduced risk of diabetes, gallstones, and kidney stones, and an Italian study hints at some protection from colon cancer. Coffee does stimulate urine flow, which can be a trial for men with benign prostatic hyperplasia, but contrary to common beliefs, it does not cause dehydration.
Coffee’s effects on the metabolism are just beginning to be evaluated. It does seem to elevate homo cysteine levels, which could increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, but coffee drinkers don’t seem to suffer these consequences. Boiled, plunger pot, Turkish, and espresso coffee can raise blood cholesterol levels, but filtered, perked, and instant coffee do not. Coffee widens the bronchial tubes, providing mild benefit for some asthmatics.
It’s a complex equation, but it all boils down to this: When it comes to coffee, the choice is yours. If you enjoy coffee, drink it to your heart’s content. But if it bothers you, reduce your consumption or give it up.
Until the last drop of scientific data is in, common sense and moderation are the best guidelines. And whether or not you choose to drink coffee, don’t let the question brew up arguments that really might raise your blood pressure.