From the Journals

Coffee lowers heart failure risk in unique study



Higher coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of heart failure, according to a machine learning–based algorithm that analyzed data from three large observational trials.

Dr. David P. Kao is an assistant professor of medicine and medical director of the Colorado Center for Personalized Medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical School in Aurora

Dr. David Kao

“Coffee consumption actually was predictive on top of known risk factors originally identified from those three trials.” The study is significant because it underscores the potential of big data for individualizing patient management, lead investigator David Kao, MD, said in an interview. “We in fact adjusted for the scores that are commonly used to predict heart disease, and coffee consumption remained a predictor even on top of that.”

The study used supervised machine learning to analyze data on diet and other variables from three well-known observational studies: Framingham Heart Study (FHS), Cardiovascular Heart Study (CHS), and ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities). The goal of the study, published online on Feb. 9, 2021*, was to identify potential novel risk factors for incident coronary heart disease, stroke, and heart failure.

“The main difference of the relationship between coffee and heart disease, compared with prior analyses, is that we’re able to find it in these well-known and well-accepted studies that have helped us find risk factors before,” Dr. Kao said

The study included 2,732 FHS participants aged 30-62 years, 3,704 CHS patients aged 65 and older, and 14,925 ARIC subjects aged 45-64, all of whom had no history of cardiovascular disease events when they enrolled. Primary outcomes for the machine-learning study were times to incident coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.

Mathematics, not hypotheses

To compensate for variations in methodologies between the three observational trials, the study used 204 data measurements collected at the first FHS exam, including 16 dietary variables and for which similar data were collected for the other two studies.

The machine-learning model used what’s known as a random forest analysis to identify the leading potential risk factors from among the 204 variables. To confirm findings between studies, the authors used a technique called “data harmonization” to smooth variations in the methodologies of the trials, not only with participant age and duration and date of the trials, but also in how data on coffee consumption were gathered. For example, FHS collected that data as cups per day, whereas CHS and ARIC collected that as monthly, weekly, and daily consumption. The study converted the coffee consumption data from CHS and ARIC to cups per day to conform to FHS data.

Random forest analysis is a type of machine learning that randomly creates a cluster of decision trees – the “forest” – to determine which variables, such as dietary factors, are important in predicting a result. The analysis uses mathematics, not hypotheses, to identify important variables.

Heart failure and risk reduced

In this study, the analysis determined that each cup of caffeinated coffee daily was linked with a 5% reduction in the risk of heart failure (hazard ratio, 0.95; P = .02) and 6% reduction in stroke risk (HR, 0.94; P = .02), but had no significant impact on risk for coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.

When the data were adjusted for the FHS CVD risk score, increasing coffee consumption remained significantly associated with an identical lower risk of heart failure (P = .03) but not stroke (P = .33).

Dr. Alice H. Lichtenstein, director and senior scientist at the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston

Dr. Alice H. Lichtenstein

While the study supports an association between coffee consumption and heart failure risk, it doesn’t establish causation, noted Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director and senior scientist at the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University, Boston. “The authors could not rule out the possibility that caffeinated coffee intake was a proxy for other heart-healthy lifestyle behaviors,” Dr. Lichtenstein said. “Perhaps the best message from the study is that there appears to be no adverse effects of drinking moderate amounts of caffeinated coffee, and there may be benefits.”

She added a note of caution. “This result does not suggest coffee intake should be increased, nor does it give license to increasing coffee drinks with a lot of added cream and sugar.”

Machine learning mines observational trials

Dr. Kao explained the rationale for applying a machine-learning algorithm to the three observational trials. “When these trials were designed in general, they had an idea of what they were looking for in terms of what might be a risk factor,” said Dr. Kao, of the University of Colorado at Denver, Aurora. “What we were interested in doing was to look for risk factors that nobody really thought about ahead of time and let the data show us what might be a predictor without any bias of what we imagined to be true.”

He described the role of machine learning in extracting and “filtering” data from the trials. “Machine learning allows us to look at a very large number of factors or variables and identify the most important ones in predicting a specific outcome,” he said. This study evaluated the 204 variables and focused on dietary factors because they’re modifiable.

“We looked at them in these different studies where we could, and coffee was the one that was reproducible in all of them,” he said. “Machine learning helped filter down these very large numbers of variables in ways you can’t do with traditional statistics. It’s useful in studies like this because they gather thousands and thousands of variables that generally nobody uses, but these methods allow you to actually do something with them – to determine which ones are most important.”

He added: “These methods I think will take us toward personalized medicine where you’re really individualizing a plan for keeping a patient healthy. We still have a lot of work to do, but there’s a lot of promise for really helping each of us to figure out the ways we can become the healthiest that we can be.”

The study was supported with funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the American Heart Association. Dr. Kao and coauthors, as well as Dr. Lichtenstein, had no relevant financial relationships to disclose.

*Correction, 2/10/21: An earlier version of this article misstated the study's publication date.

Recommended Reading

Neprilysin, corin singled out for potential to guide heart failure therapy
MDedge Cardiology
Five reasons sacubitril/valsartan should not be approved for HFpEF
MDedge Cardiology
Newer iPhones disable implanted defibrillators
MDedge Cardiology
Study flags cardiovascular disease in men with breast cancer
MDedge Cardiology
Cardiac activity not uncommon after lifesaving measures stop
MDedge Cardiology