Can Coffee Lower Your Cholesterol?

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 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, according to a review study published in 2012.

small shot of espresso.

The 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.

It's important to note that this study was done with mice and these compounds may act differently in humans. 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the link between coffee and cholesterol?

Since the 1980s, there has been evidence that cafestol and kahweol, organic compounds extracted from coffee beans, can increase "bad" LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Of the two, cafestol appears to be far more effective in doing this.

According to research, the daily consumption of 10 milligrams (mg) of cafestol—equal to around five cups of espresso—increases cholesterol by 0.13 mmol/L after four weeks. Although this is a significant increase, it may not necessarily push you into the abnormal range if your LDL is below 2.6 mmol/L (considered the normal range).

However, if your LDL is already elevated, anything that can increase your levels should not be ignored or minimized.

Why is French press coffee bad for you?

Unfiltered French press coffee contains far more cafestol and kahweol than a normal cup of filtered coffee. Other types of coffee pose a greater or lesser risk.

Type of Coffee Cafesterol per cup LDL increase
Scandanavian boiled coffee 6.2 mg 0.47 mmol/L
Turkish coffee 4.2 mg 0.32 mmol/L
French press coffee 2.6 mg 0.20 mmol/L
Espresso 2.0 mg 0.15 mmol/L
Mocha 1.7 mg 0.13 mmol/L
Instant 0.2 mg 0.01 mmol/L
Paper filtered 0.1 mg Under 0.01 mmol/L

Is coffee bad when you have high blood pressure?

Even in people with normal blood pressure, caffeine in coffee can a short but dramatic increase in blood pressure

Scientists are not exactly sure why this is, but it is known that caffeine stimulates the release of calcium from the lining of the stomach. Calcium plays a role in the movement of water in and out of cells, and, by releasing calcium, caffeine may cause cells in blood vessels to contract (vasodilate), increasing blood pressure.

While these transient increases may be problematic for people with high blood pressure, the evidence is split as to whether the moderate intake of coffee can aggravate pre-existing cardiovascular disease.

In fact, the American Heart Association reports that drinking one or more cups of coffee per day may decrease the risk of heart failure in people at risk.

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