Hamilton scientists discover why coffee is good for your heart (minus the cream and doughnuts)
One large coffee, black, with a healthy cardiovascular system on the side.
No, the news is not a green light to indulge in whipped cream-laden lattes, but Hamilton scientists have discovered why java is good for your heart.
The breakthrough, published in the journal Nature Communications, represents the first time the molecular “mechanism” has been identified in caffeine consumption that can help prolong your life, suggests Richard Austin.
The professor of medicine at McMaster University said previous studies have shown habitual coffee drinkers exhibit a reduced risk of heart disease.
“But our big novelty here is how we connected caffeine to PCSK9, one of the Holy Grail molecules in your blood that regulate cholesterol.”
Austin and a team that includes scientists from Montreal and Calgary discovered caffeine consumed in coffee and tea triggers a “cascade” molecular effect that reduces the levels of the PCSK9 protein in the blood, which allows for more of the bad cholesterol to be eliminated.
The decision to research caffeine’s effect on that critical protein came about three years go, Austin said, during a chat on a coffee break with graduate students at the Hamilton Centre for Kidney Research at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
PhD students including team co-leader Paul Lebeau did most of the work, he added. “Without them there is no research.”
What they still don’t know is how much coffee needs to be consumed to trigger these cholesterol-reducing effects. Can a person who drinks one cup or fewer a day realize the caffeine benefits?
Austin said they will be exploring that question next. In addition, study co-author Jakob Magolan is developing new “caffeine derivatives” that may be even more potent than caffeinated coffee, and be consumed medicinally minus coffee’s stimulative side effects.
Austin said the team’s research has been spun off into a Hamilton startup company called Systemic Therapeutics.
“We are sort of running under the radar of big pharma,” he said. “They haven’t really caught on to this idea of caffeine derivatives for cardiovascular disease. I think we’ll be one of the first ones to exploit that.”
Austin has been at McMaster 28 years, and while he has the occasional coffee, he is more of a tea drinker.
He cautioned it is counterproductive to good health to consume caffeine in sugar-rich, additive-heavy energy drinks or pop — or to marry your daily coffee intake with cream and pastries.
“Black coffee, two or three cups a day, is protective. It is, in essence, good for you.”