Coffee and tea – health myths and risks

Sitting down with a nice cup of tea or coffee has to be one of life’s great pleasures – yet these days the newspapers would have us believe that even this simple treat carries risks to our health.

A few studies recently have suggested that caffeine can increase your risk of heart disease.

Sitting down with a nice cup of tea or coffee has to be one of life’s great pleasures – yet these days the newspapers would have us believe that even this simple treat carries risks to our health.

In fact, there’s good news – as long as you stick to moderation, your taste for coffee and tea can be indulged without a moment’s guilt. By moderation, we mean up to 400 mg caffeine – that’s about eight cups of tea or four to five cups of coffee a day.

At very high levels, coffee and tea can increase blood pressure – one of the biggest risk factors for stroke. They can also make you more prone to palpitations – but you’d need to down three cups of strong coffee or six cups of tea at a single gulp to put yourself at risk! Certain types of coffee – like boiled coffee, which is popular in Scandinavia but unheard of in the UK – can increase your cholesterol. Other types of coffee don’t carry the same risk.

In fact, these studies have usually involved huge doses of caffeine or have not taken into account the fact that heavy coffee and tea drinkers are more likely to smoke. When smoking is taken out of the equation, the link disappears. What’s more, coffee and tea contain antioxidants - these may protect your heart and offset any possible damage from caffeine.

Because very high caffeine intake, from tea, coffee or colas can cause these problems, there’s been a lot of anxiety about health risks associated with them. In fact, as long as you stick to moderate levels, they’re not only safe but may be good for you.

For instance, in hot weather it’s extremely easy to get dehydrated. As you get older, dehydration gets more and more dangerous, carrying risks to your heart and your kidneys. The British Dietetic Association recommends that you should drink at least two to two and a half litres of fluid, or six to eight cups a day. At moderate levels, coffee and tea not only don’t cause dehydration but can prevent it by contributing to your daily fluid intake. There is also more and more evidence that moderate coffee and tea intake can protect against diabetes.

So overall, the message is clear – as grandma used to tell us, ‘Everything in moderation’. As long as moderation means not more than eight cups of tea or four to five cups of coffee a day, indulge away!

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.