00:50 GMT, 5 February 2013
Coffee drinkers were less likely to die early than non-coffee drinkers.
For most of us, coffee brings a pleasant, subtle sense of alertness — a clarity of mind, even.
But for Chris Harmer just one steaming cup is enough to make his heart jump and quiver at an alarming rate.
He’s so sensitive to it that even decaffeinated coffee causes a reaction.
‘People think decaf coffee contains no caffeine, but they’re wrong,’ laughs Chris, 66, a retired electronics engineer who lives with his wife, Pam, in Nailsworth, Glos.
Although most of the caffeine is removed from coffee beans to make decaf, studies show that around 1-2 per cent remains.
‘I have coffee from a particular roaster in Bristol because I get on with his decaf. Costa I get on with, too, but Starbucks is lethal. Chocolate’s bad, too.’
It’s not just the usual ‘wired’ caffeine feeling he has to worry about — Chris says caffeine triggers his atrial fibrillation (AF), a condition characterised by irregular heartbeat.
Thought to affect a million Britons, it’s caused by faulty electrical signals in the heart. Worryingly, it raises the risk of stroke five-fold and heart disease three-fold.
It’s therefore crucial that it is properly managed and treated — yet studies show there is an average delay of 2.6 years between symptoms starting and a person being diagnosed.
Indeed, although Chris’s symptoms started 15 years ago, he wasn’t diagnosed until 2008, with doctors at his local hospital writing it off as work stress.
‘My heart would really bang for ten or 20 seconds, and once it started it would go on every minute for hours,’ he says.