Coffee has travelled a long way through the ages – since a goat herder in Ethiopia noticed his goats were especially energetic after eating certain red berries.
After becoming popular with monks and traders, coffee spread from Africa and the Middle East to Europe, and is now probably the most widely consumed drink in the world today. It’s even been blessed by the Pope.
But what’s the relationship between coffee and high blood pressure? If you have high blood pressure do you need to give up coffee? Probably not. However, caffeine does raise blood pressure. While it’s unlikely you’re going to need to give it up completely, you may need to limit your caffeine intake if you’re trying to lower your blood pressure.
The effects of caffeine on blood pressure
Caffeine raises blood pressure through causing blood vessels to contract. It may also block a hormone that keeps arteries dilated, and can trigger the release of adrenaline which increases blood pressure.
Caffeine has also been shown to intensify your physical and mental experience of stress: a study at Duke University in the US showed that caffeine increased the levels of stress hormones in the body and amplified perceptions of stress. Since stress can cause high blood pressure, this means the worst thing you can do when you’re feeling stressed is grab a cup of coffee!
Persistence of the effects of caffeine and caffeine tolerance
You might think that the effect of a cup of coffee, or other caffeinated drinks, only lasts for an hour or two. It’s true that a cup of coffee generally raises blood pressure for no more than a few hours. However, caffeine can persist in the body for an entire day, with continued effects. Caffeine consumed in the morning can be affecting you even when you go to bed at night.
If you drink caffeine regularly, you’ll probably develop a tolerance to it, such that it doesn’t affect you quite as intensely as those who drink coffee only occasionally. So you might think that if you have a regular coffee habit, you don’t need to worry about its effect on your blood pressure.
However, this is not necessarily the case. Some studies show that drinking coffee regularly isn’t associated with raised blood pressure. However, other long-term studies have shown a relationship between daily amount of coffee consumed and blood pressure levels. So not everyone becomes immune to the blood pressure-raising effects of caffeine.
Also, the participants in the Duke University study described above were all habitual coffee drinkers, yet still showed significant increases in blood pressure, and stress, after consuming caffeine.
Some benefits of coffee for high blood pressure
The relationship of coffee and high blood pressure isn’t clear-cut. As well as studies giving somewhat mixed results, some suggest that some of the ingredients in coffee can benefit high blood pressure. Coffee contains antioxidants (such as polyphenols) and also some potassium. Since these substances are known to be good for the cardiovascular system, some thus argue that coffee can be good for your blood pressure.
How much coffee should I drink if I have high blood pressure?
It’s up to you to decide how much coffee you can have if you have high blood pressure. Some recommend limiting your caffeine intake to 200 mg (0.007 ounces) caffeine per day for healthy blood pressure. This is roughly the equivalent of two cups of brewed coffee per day. If you have high blood pressure, then this guideline could be worth following – especially if you’re specifically trying to lower your blood pressure, rather than just maintain it at its current level.
Keep in mind though that two cups per day may still increase blood pressure too much for some. Each person’s sensitivity to caffeine is different, and can change.
You can try to assess the short-term effect of caffeine by taking blood pressure readings. Take a reading first at rest before having any caffeine, and again about 30-60 minutes afterwards (repeat on several different days to get averages). If your readings go up 5-10 points after caffeine then it’s likely you’re sensitive to it.
However, this doesn’t measure any subtle ongoing effects that caffeine may be having on your blood pressure. So if you’re trying to lower your blood pressure, better to keep your caffeine intake on the low side.
Personal factors relating to coffee and high blood pressure
When figuring out what amount of caffeine is healthy for you, you also need to consider personal characteristics and other activities which exacerbate the effects of caffeine. These include:
Your blood pressure: The effect of caffeine is stronger the higher your blood pressure is already. So those with the highest blood pressure are most at risk from the blood pressure-increasing effects of caffeine.
Your age: The older you get – especially once you’re over 70 – the more your blood pressure is likely to react to caffeine.
Your size and weight: In general, the smaller and lighter you are, the more caffeine is likely to affect you, so you’re likely need to observe a lower daily caffeine limit. On the other hand, if you are overweight, caffeine is likely to have a greater effect on your blood pressure, so you will also need to be careful.
Exercise: Avoid caffeine right before doing exercise or any highly energetic activity. Exercise already raises your blood pressure, and the extra effect of caffeine can mean your heart has to work too hard. Stay away from caffeine for at least an hour before getting into serious exercise. Drink water (or coconut water) instead.
Smoking: Tobacco raises blood pressure by constricting your blood vessels, so coffee and a cigarette aren’t such a perfect combination.
Stress: Stress increases your blood pressure, and caffeine in turn increases your feeling of stress!
How to get less caffeine
Lower your caffeine intake gradually
If your current caffeine intake is much higher than a few daily cups of coffee, then be aware that a sudden drop in your caffeine intake can cause mild withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, irritability, and anxiety.
You can make the transition easier by reducing your caffeine intake over the course of a week or more.
As well as just cutting the number of cups of coffee you drink, there are other ways you can reduce the caffeine you’re getting, such as changing the kind of coffee you drink or switching to other drinks that are lower in caffeine or don’t contain caffeine at all.
Drink less coffee
The simplest way – drink less cups of coffee and/or drink smaller cups of coffee.
Drink coffee that’s lower in caffeine
In general, espresso coffees contain less caffeine than brewed/filter coffee, and of course decaffeinated coffee contains the least of all. (Espresso based drinks like latte, cappuccino etc., may be made with one or two shots, depending on the café/barista/outlet. So ask before you order to make sure you’re not getting more caffeine than you realize.)
See the links at the bottom of this page for details of the caffeine content of different drinks.
Drink tea instead of coffee
Replace coffee with other less caffeinated drinks, like black and green tea. As well as containing less caffeine, they also contain substances which can actually help lower your blood pressure.
There are also, of course, loads and loads of drinks which don’t contain any caffeine at all. Some of these, like tea, also have blood pressure-lowering properties. These include herbal tea and unsweetened cordials, as well as juices and smoothies. You can read more about these in our article: What to drink to lower blood pressure
Drink your way to lower blood pressure
There are many delicious drinks which can actually help lower your blood pressure, as well as just not raising it. You’ll find the most comprehensive overview of these in our book:
Also, while you can drink your way to lower blood pressure to some extent, you’ll almost certainly need to adjust your diet and maybe other aspects of your lifestyle as well. If you want to seriously and sustainably lower your blood pressure for the long-term, then you’ll need to be quite active regularly. You’ll also need to make sure you’re not too stressed out too much of the time.
This might sound like quite a big ask, but it can actually be quite a straightforward process if you just take it one step at a time. Our book will help you do just that. Each step focuses on different aspects of lowering blood pressure naturally and gives you clear guidance on how to do it. You can follow the steps at whatever pace best suits you. There’s no deadline or race.
There’s also no terrible hardship to go through. Lowering blood pressure naturally absolutely does not have to be a life of denial. You can still eat chocolate, drink alcohol, and eat red meat and butter (in moderation of course), along with plenty of other tasty and nutritious foods.
There are plenty of ways to get more exercise in your everyday life which are enjoyable and suit your natural interests – you don’t have to be a yoga or gym fanatic (unless you want to).
As for stress reduction, who doesn’t want to learn how to relax more? The book outlines myriad techniques you can use so you can try different methods and find which you most enjoy.
All in all, by lowering your blood pressure naturally, you’re moving to a healthier and thus naturally more enjoyable life. What are you waiting for?
Click here for details: Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally – The Complete 9 Step Guide
Post by Alison.
Coffee and high blood pressure: some references
Coffee and caffeine content of drinks
For a general overview of the caffeine content of various popular drinks:
Specific and up-to-date caffeine content figures for drinks (and foods) from many major coffee shops, outlets and brands:
Caffeine database (Caffeineinformer.com)
Caffeine chart (Centre of Science in the Public Interest)
Coffee and blood pressure:
Duke University – Caffeine’s Effects are Long-Lasting and Compound Stress
Mayo Clinic – How does caffeine affect blood pressure?
PubMed – Habitual coffee consumption and blood pressure: an epidemiological perspective
Healthline.com – How Does Coffee Affect Your Blood Pressure?