Health risks, benefits and more

Studies have identified a risk of coffee increasing a person’s serum cholesterol level, although this may depend on the brewing method. Unfiltered coffee and French press coffee can increase cholesterol levels, while instant and filter coffee are less likely to affect this.

The risk of an elevated serum cholesterol level also depends on how much coffee a person drinks and how sensitive they are to caffeine.

This article discusses how certain oils in coffee may affect serum (blood) cholesterol levels, the risks and benefits of drinking coffee, and tips for managing cholesterol levels.

Study results on the link between coffee drinking and higher levels of serum cholesterol are mixed, according to a 2001 study.

A more recent 2016 study suggests that coffee consumption is linked to higher cholesterol levels, although the effects vary depending on the type of coffee and the sex of the individual.

However, according to older research from 1997, it is not the amount of caffeine in coffee that can affect cholesterol levels, but rather the oils found naturally in the coffee bean. These natural oils, also called diterpenes, are cafestol and kahweol.

The Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee (ISIC) agrees that both oils can raise total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, although the amount of diterpenes in coffee varies with the brewing method.

For example, if someone makes coffee with paper filters, most of the diterpenes will remain in the filter. In unfiltered coffee, however, more of the diterpenes pass through the coffee.

Scandinavian boiled coffee, Turkish coffee and French press coffee can also raise cholesterol, according to one Study from 2011. Scandinavian and Turkish coffees are unfiltered, while coffee made with a French press passes through a metal filter that allows more diterpenes to enter the brew than paper filters.

According to the ISIC, other types of brewed coffee contain different levels of diterpenes and therefore have different effects on cholesterol levels:

  • Espresso: This type of coffee contains about half the amount of diterpenes found in unfiltered coffee. Since people generally drink small portions of espresso, it probably has little effect on cholesterol.
  • Filtered coffee: It probably has little effect on cholesterol. However, research on this type of coffee is inconsistent.
  • Instant coffee: This type of coffee contains very few diterpenes and should therefore not have a cholesterol-raising effect.

In addition to potentially raising a person’s cholesterol levels, coffee may pose other health risks. Caffeine — a psychoactive compound found naturally in coffee — can interact with a person’s medications.

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is normally safe for health, caffeine may have several clinically significant interactions with many medications.

Some other drinks, such as energy drinks, are also high in caffeine.

Risks of Drug Interactions

A 2020 review found that coffee can interact with many medications due to its caffeine content. A person may want to check with their doctor to see if any of their medications fall into that category.

also the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn against mixing a caffeinated drink, such as coffee, with alcohol. The combination can cause a person to drink more alcohol than they realize and thus experience more of the harmful effects.

Risks of Caffeine

The amount of caffeine that the FDA considers safe is equal to four or five cups of coffee. However, some individuals are more sensitive to the effect of caffeine and may experience some of the following symptoms:

Other sources of caffeine

Other beverages that contain caffeine include tea, soda, and energy drinks. Tea and soda generally contain less caffeine than coffee, while some energy drinks may have two to three times as much caffeine as a coffee drink, according to the FDA.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA)coffee has several potential benefits, including:

In addition, the AHA notes that caffeine:

  • increase energy
  • help with weight loss
  • improve mental focus
  • elevate mood
  • improve exercise performance

While cafestol and kahweol may have a negative effect on cholesterol, they may provide some health benefits. Research suggests they may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

cholesterol is a fatty substance which plays many essential roles in the body at a healthy level. When LDL cholesterol levels are too high, plaque builds up in the arteries. If the plaque builds up enough to impede blood flow, it becomes dangerous, as it can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Cholesterol travels through the bloodstream as part of molecules called lipoproteins. There are two main types of lipoproteins in the blood:

  • LDL: Some people call this “bad” cholesterol. It plays a key role in plaque buildup in the arteries.
  • High Density Lipoprotein (HDL): Some people call this “good” cholesterol. It helps remove cholesterol from the body.

Although coffee does not contain cholesterol, it can affect cholesterol levels. The diterpenes in coffee suppress the body’s production of substances involved in the breakdown of cholesterol, which raises cholesterol. In particular, coffee diterpenes can cause an increase in total cholesterol and LDL levels.

It is important to note that dietary cholesterol is not strongly linked to LDL levels. Instead, diets high in saturated and trans fats can raise blood cholesterol levels. However, research on dietary cholesterol is ongoing.

Heart-healthy lifestyle changes can help control cholesterol levels. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) advises the following:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet: This diet includes fruits, vegetables and whole grains, along with nuts, olive oil and fish containing omega-3 fatty acids. It also includes limiting one’s intake of foods high in saturated and trans fat, such as fatty cuts of meat and packaged snacks.
  • Exercise regularly: Studies show that regular exercise raises HDL and lowers LDL.
  • Try to quit smoking, if applicable: This habit is one important risk factor for heart disease.
  • Try to maintain a moderate weight: If a person has a high body weight or is obese, losing 3-5% of their total weight can raise their HDL and lower their LDL.
  • Try to manage stress: Research suggests that stress has a detrimental effect on cholesterol.

People with high cholesterol should consult their doctor to find out if they need medication, as several medications can lower cholesterol levels.

However, some people take medications or have a health condition that contributes to high cholesterol. In those cases, a person’s doctor may change the prescription medicine or suggest a different treatment.

The relationship between coffee and cholesterol may depend on how one brews the drink. Some studies also indicate that coffee may affect a person’s cholesterol differently depending on their gender. Paper filters can help minimize the amount of natural oils in coffee and result in a coffee drink with less of an effect on cholesterol.

People with high cholesterol may want to choose filtered coffee more often than unfiltered coffee. When a paper filter is not used in the brewing method, more of the cholesterol-raising oils end up in the coffee.

A person should speak with a health care professional if they are concerned about their cholesterol levels.

Health risks, benefits and more

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