Pensioners should drink four cups of coffee a day to protect and repair their heart muscle, research suggests. Levels of caffeine, equivalent to drinking four cups of coffee, could help to protect healthy blood vessels and repair the heart after a heart attack, a study claims.
The stimulant boosts a protein known to be important in regenerating heart cells, and which could also protect them from damage.
Caffeine is thought to lower the risk for diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke, but the reasons for this are not well understood.
German researchers now think caffeine may make cells which line the arteries and veins healthier, improving their ability to resist or recover from damage.
The scientists say their findings ‘should lead to better strategies for protecting heart muscle’, and another expert called the results ‘very interesting’.
They suggest caffeine could particularly benefit elderly people, whose hearts may be naturally weaker and more at risk of damage.
Research by Heinrich-Heine-University and the IUF-Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Dusseldorf, Germany, discovered the health-boosting effects of caffeine on heart cells.
They found the drug – which is also found in tea and soft drinks like Coca Cola – improves the function of cells lining the heart and blood vessels.
It does this by encouraging the movement of a vital protein – called p27 – into the cells.
Caffeine also strengthens mitochondria, which give cells their energy, so they are more able to keep cells healthy and protect them, the study says.
Caffeine protects the hearts of ageing, pre-diabetic and obese mice
The research, done on mice, showed caffeine protected the hearts of pre-diabetic, obese and old mice.
The researchers suggest it could offer the same benefits to elderly people, whose hearts are more at risk of damage and may have weaker cells.
Study author Professor Judith Haendeler said: ‘Our results indicate a new mode of action for caffeine, one that promotes protection and repair of heart muscle.
‘These results should lead to better strategies for protecting heart muscle from damage, including consideration of coffee consumption or caffeine as an additional dietary factor in the elderly population.
Elderly heart function may be improved by caffeine
‘With respect to ageing and thus to the elderly population, our data demonstrate that the mitochondrial capacity of the old heart is improved by caffeine to that of the adult heart.’
The researchers add that improving the heart’s function among elderly people is key to helping them to live longer, healthier lives.
Professor Haendeler added: ‘Coffee consumption or caffeine per se could be considered as an additional protective dietary factor for the elderly population.
‘Analyses provided evidence that habitual intake of caffeinated beverages reduces the risk of heart disease mortality among elderly.’
Caffeine is thought to have a number of health benefits, including helping people avoid gaining weight by speeding up the metabolism.
‘People who drink coffee can be reassured it might have health benefits’
Professor Tim Chico from the University of Sheffield said: ‘These researchers have discovered that a protein called p27 is important for recovery after heart attack in mice, and that p27 function is boosted by caffeine.
‘These are very interesting findings but need to be confirmed in clinical trials before we can tell whether caffeine is truly helpful after a heart attack in humans.
‘There is already some evidence suggesting coffee might protect against some diseases, which if true could be due to the effect of caffeine on p27.
‘I do not think people need to drink more coffee in response to this study, but that people who already drink coffee can be reassured that it might have health benefits (as long as they don’t use it to wash down an enormous muffin, cake, or doughnut).
Pioneering research suggests using caffeine to solve diabetes
In research released this week Swiss scientists say they could modify kidney cells to respond to caffeine to help people with diabetes.
In people whose pancreases do not produce insulin properly, the researchers said they could edit kidney cells to make insulin, and they could be triggered or controlled by caffeine.
This would mean that just adding a cup of caffeinated tea or coffee – the latter of which, incidentally, may even have protective effects against type 2 diabetes – could trigger insulin production and cut the injection out of the equation.
If their experiment works, a simple sip of coffee could trigger insulin production and eliminate the need to inject the hormone once and for all.