Previous studies have linked regular caffeine intake to extra heartbeats – a common occurrence that can nevertheless lead to heart problems, stroke and death in rare cases. Now, in the first study to date that looks at long-term caffeine consumption, researchers conclude that regular caffeine consumption is not linked to extra heartbeats.

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A new study demonstrates that, contrary to popular belief, moderate caffeine consumption does not increase heartbeats.

According to the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) researchers, whose work is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, theirs is the largest study to assess the relation between dietary patterns and extra heartbeats.

They note that excessive premature atrial contractions (PACs) – which feel like the heart has skipped a beat and start in the upper chambers of the heart – have been shown to result in atrial fibrillation, stroke and death.

Likewise, excessive premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) – which start in the lower chambers of the heart – can result in increased heart failure, coronary artery disease and death.

Although previous studies have linked both types of premature contractions to caffeine consumption, the researchers say such studies were conducted several decades ago and did not use PACs or PVCs as a primary outcome.

As a result of such studies, the American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines regarding PVCs say that if a patient has a history of premature extra heartbeats, they should eliminate factors that could potentially aggravate the condition – including caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.

However, recent studies have suggested there are cardiovascular benefits linked to caffeine sources, such as coffee, chocolate and tea. Furthermore, a recent study suggested moderate coffee intake may prevent premature death.

As a result of the current guidelines in place, clinicians are uncertain about how to counsel patients regarding consumption of caffeinated products. What this means is that patients could be reducing their intake unnecessarily to avoid potential cardiac issues.

Fast facts about early heartbeats
  • The heart does not actually “skip a beat,” but rather, an early beat disrupts the heart’s rhythm
  • Most people experience them at some time
  • Those without an underlying cause typically disappear, but if a cause is found, treatment plans are needed.

Learn more about heart rhythms

To further investigate, Dr. Gregory Marcus, a cardiologist from UCSF, and colleagues assessed 1,388 participants form the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Cardiovascular Health Study database, which includes 6,000 patients.

They excluded patients with persistent extra heartbeats.

After assessing the participants’ baseline food frequency and conducting 24-hour ambulatory electrocardiography monitoring, the researchers determined participant frequency of coffee, tea and chocolate consumption through a survey.

In total, 61% of the participants consumed more than one caffeine item per day.

Results showed that there was no difference in incidence of PACs or PVCs per hour in all levels of coffee, tea and chocolate intake. Furthermore, participants who consumed such products more frequently did not have extra heartbeats.

The researchers say theirs is the first study that is community based and that examines the impact of caffeine on extra heartbeats; previous studies examined patients with known arrhythmias.

Commenting on their findings, Dr. Marcus says:

”Clinical recommendations advising against the regular consumption of caffeinated products to prevent disturbances of the heart’s cardiac rhythm should be reconsidered, as we may unnecessarily be discouraging consumption of items like chocolate, coffee and tea that might actually have cardiovascular benefits.”

He adds, “Given our recent work demonstrating that extra heartbeats can be dangerous, this finding is especially relevant.”

For future work, the researchers would like to investigate whether acute consumption of caffeine affects extra heartbeats.

Medical News Today previously investigated how caffeine affects our health.