Can Coffee Lower Your Cholesterol?

Espresso shot on a table

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Coffee is a popular beverage that is heavily consumed in the United States. With a coffee shop on practically every corner, it is difficult not to join the coffee craze that has swept the nation.

There are many varieties of coffees, but they are prepared in two main ways: filtered and unfiltered. Filtered coffees are the most common mode of preparation in the United States and involve brewing the coffee through a filter. Unfiltered coffees, also known as “boiled” coffees, do not employ a filter and include espresso, Turkish coffees, and French press coffees.

Coffee contains many ingredients, most notably caffeine, chlorogenic acid, and chemicals called diterpenes. Many studies have examined the health benefits of coffee, paying particularly close attention to caffeine. Some studies have even suggested that drinking coffee may prevent diseases such as type II diabetes mellitus, Parkinson’s disease, certain types of liver cancer, and possibly improve your heart health by lowering your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

To date, coffee consumption has not been directly associated with cardiovascular disease, but some studies reveal that some forms of coffee may adversely affect your lipid profile.

Unfiltered Brewing Methods May Raise Lipids

Although most studies have noted that filtered coffee has a neutral effect on lipid levels, unfiltered coffee appears to increase LDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides in some studies. Two diterpenes found in high amounts in unfiltered coffee, cafestol and kahweol, have been found to actually raise cholesterol levels.

These studies examined different types of unfiltered coffee, as well as coffee oil. Most studies have indicated that individuals consuming roughly 60 milligrams of cafestol (equivalent to 10 cups of unfiltered, French press coffee or 2 grams of coffee oil) may raise total cholesterol levels by an average of about 20%. This is largely due to an increase in low density lipoprotein (LDL) levels and triglyceride levels. High density lipoproteins (HDL) do not appear to be affected. It is thought that filtered coffee does not have this effect because the diterpenes are caught in the filter and not included in the coffee consumed.

Although the mechanism by which cafestol and kahweol raised cholesterol were largely unknown, one study indicates that this compound may activate a protein called farsenoid X receptor (FXR) in the intestine, which affects a gene called fibroblast growth factor 15 (FGF15). When this gene is activated, it can reduce the effects of three genes in the liver involved in cholesterol regulation. In other words, cholesterol levels increase when cafestol and kahweol are present due to their ability to activate this gene.

More studies are needed to examine the effect of coffee on lipid levels since the results from some of these studies have been mixed.

If you are trying to watch your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, you may want to lower your consumption of unfiltered coffee beverages (espresso, French press, or Turkish coffee) if you drink large amounts of them frequently.

Additionally, you should watch out for some of the things you are adding to your coffee. Heavy cream, sugar, chocolate syrup, and caramel can add calories to your coffee and could raise your cholesterol and triglyceride levels if you consume these items on a regular basis.

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