Many of us love coffee—whether it’s for the flavor, the smell or the pick-me-up. With a popular coffee culture (an estimated 64 percent of Americans drinks a cup of joe daily) and abundant cafes, it’s easy to rack up more than a few cups (25 for some!) by the end of the day. Naturally, this begs the question: how much is too much?
Over the years, a slew of studies has been giving mixed messages about the healthy amount and effects. Some studies suggest coffee consumption can help reduce risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers plus boosts brain health and metabolism,” while others emphasize that too much can lead to heart disease and migraines. As for the amount, just these past five months, there are studies with drastically different figures.
In March, Dr. Elina Hyppönen and Dr. Ang Zhou of the Australian Centre for Precision Health at the University of Southern Australia shared their findings on the maximum daily coffee intake that doesn’t harm cardiovascular health. After analyzing dietary patterns and health records of 346,077 individuals aged 37 to 73 years from the UK Biobank data, the number they discovered is five. According to the study, by the time you drink six cups of coffee or more per day, your risk of heart disease can rise to 22 percent.
On June 3, a study presented at the British Cardiovascular Society conference by the Queen Mary University of London offers a different number. While the average intake among the highest consumption group in this study is five cups per day, but after giving 8,412 participants MRI heart scans and infrared pulse wave tests, scientists discovered that “even those who drank up to 25 cups a day were no more likely to experience stiffening of the arteries than someone drinking less than a cup a day.”
As the scientist who led the data analysis at the Queen Mary University of London, Kenneth Fung told CNN that the study by no means encourages people to drink 25 cups a day. Instead, “the main message for people to take away from this is that coffee can be enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle, and coffee lovers can be reassured by this result in terms of blood vessel stiffness outcomes,” he said.
When it comes to making sense of different research, Dr. Donald Hensrud—Director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program and Medical Editor of the Mayo Clinic Diet—suggests that “one study [won’t] change the whole amount of research that has been done up until now.” It’s essential to assess the entire body of research over the years, which have pointed to coffee intake’s effect on decreasing risks of Type 2 Diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and overall mortality. While excess caffeine is a proven risk for women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, the general health benefits of coffee are relatively evident.
Instead, pay more attention to the side effects such as heartburn, acid reflux, urinary issues (especially among men), insomnia and heart palpitations. Those are the more significant, earlier telltale signs for when coffee drinkers should cut down. Also, limit sugar and cream, and avoid flavored coffees from chains (which has 500 calories or more) if you want to “keep overall calorie intake down,” said Hensrud.
Like many things, “moderation is key—usually five to six cups a day is a practical and reasonable limit as long as someone doesn’t experience side effects.” As for those in serious need to lower coffee intake, Hensrud recommends taking it slowly. “Don’t go cold turkey.” Let the caffeine addiction taper off over time (reducing a cup every few days), so you won’t experience too many withdrawal symptoms.