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Coffee and Cholesterol: Is There a Link?

Overview

Highlights

  1. Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver. It is naturally found in the body.
  2. Coffee doesn’t contain cholesterol like many animal products do. Instead, coffee affects how your body produces cholesterol.
  3. Cafestol in coffee affects cholesterol levels. However, the amount of cafestol you take in depends on how you brew your coffee.

There are many claims about coffee and cholesterol. Studies on how coffee increases cholesterol levels have been mixed. One thing is clear: Coffee may raise cholesterol, but this depends on how you brew it and how much you drink. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, coffee may also impact your health.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the liver. It is naturally found in the body. In addition to the cholesterol your body produces, you get cholesterol through certain foods. Too much LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, puts you at risk for cardiovascular disease. Most doctors recommend limiting how much added cholesterol you get from your diet.

Coffee doesn’t contain cholesterol like many animal products do. Instead, coffee affects how your body produces cholesterol.

Link between coffee and cholesterol

Several studies over the past decade have shown a link between coffee and cholesterol. According to one study, coffee oils (known as diterpenes) such as cafestol and kahweol are to blame. Coffee oils are naturally found in caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee.

Research indicates that cafestol affects the body’s ability to metabolize and regulate cholesterol. According to a meta-analysis of controlled studies on coffee and cholesterol, coffee oils may decrease bile acids and neutral sterols. This may lead to increased cholesterol. Researchers concluded that cafestol is the “most potent cholesterol-elevating compound identified in the human diet.”

If you have a genetic mutation that slows down coffee metabolism in your body, and you drink two or more cups of coffee a day, your risk of heart disease may be higher.

Why your coffee brew matters

Coffee oils are most potent in coffees where the grounds have the longest contact with the water during brewing. A French press, which brews coffee by continually passing water through the grounds, has been shown to have greater concentrations of cafestol. Brewing in an American-style coffee pot with a filter, on the other hand, has relatively low levels, as the beverage is only passed through the grounds once. Most of the cafestol is left behind in the filter no matter what the roast. Another study found that Turkish-style simmered coffee and Scandinavian-style boiled coffee had the highest amount of diterpenes. Instant coffee and drip-brewed coffee had “negligible” amounts, and espresso had intermediate amounts.

Research has shown that drinking five cups of coffee daily from a French press brewing method can increase blood cholesterol levels by 6 to 8 percent.

Benefits of drinking coffee

Unless you’re drinking significant amounts of unfiltered or French press coffee on a daily basis, raised cholesterol levels shouldn’t be much of a concern — at least, not when it comes to coffee. On the contrary, coffee may be able to deliver numerous health benefits.

According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have found no significant connection between coffee and increased risks of heart disease and cancer. Earlier studies that found a link did not consider other high-risk behaviors common in coffee drinkers, such as smoking and lack of exercise. Research has, however, indicated a link between coffee consumption and decreased mortality rate.

Coffee has also been associated with protection against diseases such as type 2 diabetes, liver disease, Parkinson’s, and depression.

Warnings and risks

Perhaps some of the most relevant questions about coffee’s effects lie in its energy and mood-boosting element: caffeine. After all, it’s why many of us drink coffee in the first place.

Caffeine is a stimulant. Too much can cause jitters, insomnia, headaches, upset stomach, and anxiety. Some people are particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine. These people may want to limit how much coffee they drink, or switch to decaffeinated.

Caffeine may worsen some conditions, such as:

  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • high blood pressure
  • heart problems such as arrhythmias
  • kidney problems
  • chronic stomach issues

There’s some evidence that women who drink large amounts of caffeine may have a higher risk of osteoporosis. Caffeine may interact with some medications or herbs. Use with caution if you take:

  • quinolone antibiotics such as ciproflaxin and norfloxacin
  • asthma medications such as theophylline
  • depression medications
  • anticoagulant medications
  • stimulant drugs including decongestants
  • echinacea
  • weight loss pills containing caffeine
  • pain relievers containing caffeine

Caffeine isn’t only found in coffee. It’s also in black tea, green tea, chocolate, energy drinks, and even one type of jerky.

Takeaway

No matter how you brew it, coffee isn’t going anywhere. It’s one of the most popular beverages worldwide. While there’s reason to be concerned about coffee raising cholesterol, there’s no need to panic. You may reduce the risk by drip-brewing your coffee and enjoying French-pressed or boiled coffee and espresso in moderation. If you have high cholesterol, drink drip-brewed coffee in moderation. Talk to your doctor to about any concerns you have.

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