Women’s High Blood Pressure Linked to Cola, but Not Coffee

BY JENNIFER WIDER, M.D.

Good news for women hooked on coffee: one or more daily cups of Joe will not increase your chances of getting high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, according to a new study examining the effects of caffeine. The study, which was published in the Nov. 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, did however reveal a possible link between high blood pressure and cola consumption – for both diet and non-diet varieties.

“The results were intriguing because two caffeinated beverages behaved differently,” said lead author Wolfgang Winkelmayer, M.D., Sc.D, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass. The findings come from data recorded in the Nurses’ Health Study in which more than 150,000 women were followed for 12 years. All women who participated did not have medically-diagnosed high blood pressure at the start of the study. 

It has long been established that caffeine increases blood pressure in the short-term, but the link between routine caffeine consumption and chronic high blood pressure was unclear. “Caffeine immediately enhances the activity of the autonomic nervous system,” which helps regulate blood pressure, Winkelmayer explained. But the role caffeine plays on the body over a longer period of time needs further study.

High blood pressure should not be taken lightly, especially by women. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than half of all American women over the age of 55 suffer from hypertension. Alarmingly, high blood pressure puts people at risk for all sorts of problems including heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage and impaired vision. In fact, high blood pressure has been associated with three out of every five cases of heart failure in women.

Before you toss all your soda and buy stock in Starbucks, the authors of the study warn that more research is needed to further understand the link between cola and high blood pressure.

In fact, Winkelmayer contends that caffeine may not be the culprit. “There may be something other than caffeine in cola beverages that we still need to identify,” he says.

Alternatively, if caffeine intake is to blame for chronic high blood pressure, there may be something in coffee that reverses the effect. According to the study’s results, “women who drank the most coffee had the lowest risk of developing newly diagnosed high blood pressure,” cites Winkelmayer. “Both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee is rich in anti-oxidants that may counterbalance the risk of high blood pressure and offer protection.”

More studies are needed to further evaluate the role coffee and cola play in hypertension. Currently, there are other studies examining caffeine intake in both women and men.

African American women are more likely than women of other races to suffer from hypertension, which increases their risk for developing heart disease and stroke. They should pay close attention to issues surrounding hypertension, because the death rate for heart disease and stroke is higher for African American women than for white women.

Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to prevent your chances of developing heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes:

  • Be aware of your blood pressure and cholesterol level. Taking steps to lower them now can make all the difference for your future health.
  • Tobacco use can increase your chances for all sorts of heart problems. If you smoke, you should stop.
  • Regular and moderate exercise can keep your heart healthy and help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Talk to your family about their history of cardiovascular disease. You should also speak with your health care provider about ways to lower your risk of hypertension and heart diseases.

Sources: Winkelmayer W, Stampfer M, et al. Habitual Caffeine Intake and the Risk of Hypertension in Women. JAMA. 2005; 294:2330-2335. © December 2, 2005 Society for Women’s Health Research

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