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Heavy Coffee Consumption Linked to Increased Cholesterol

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Heavy Coffee Consumption Linked to Increased Cholesterol

Coffee is an important, even treasured, part of many people’s daily routine. For some people, the health risks or benefits of coffee are mostly irrelevant, since they can’t imagine going without the energy or mood boost that comes with sipping this brew. But for others, it’s reassuring to know that moderate coffee consumption may have numerous health benefits — including a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Coffee may also stimulate fat burning and reduce the risk of developing heart failure, but it can also spike blood glucose levels in many people with diabetes.

But the risks of drinking coffee aren’t limited to its effects on blood glucose levels. As a new study shows, heavy coffee consumption is also linked to higher levels of certain types of blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides).

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More coffee, higher LDL cholesterol

The study, published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, looked at the relationship between self-reported coffee consumption and many different blood test results in 362,571 people who took part in the UK Biobank — a large British research study examining many different aspects of health. The researchers were mostly interested evaluating whether there was a link between coffee consumption and blood levels of substances linked to the risk of cardiovascular disease — including low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglycerides.

The researchers discovered a dose-dependent relationship between coffee intake and several different blood measurements, including LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol. The highest levels of these lipids were seen in participants who drank more than six cups of coffee each day, with lower levels linked to lower coffee consumption. Each cup of coffee consumed daily was linked to an average increase in LDL cholesterol of 1.26 mg/dl, and an average increase in total cholesterol of 1.62 mg/dl.

As noted in an article on the study at Medical Dialogues, the researchers speculated that the link between coffee and cholesterol may lie in a compound found in coffee called cafestol. This substance tends to be found at higher levels in unfiltered forms of coffee, such as French press, Turkish and Greek styles of coffee. There isn’t much cafestol in filtered and instant forms of coffee.

Should you cut back on coffee?

While this study found a relationship between coffee intake and blood cholesterol levels, it didn’t look for — and thus couldn’t find — an actual increased risk for cardiovascular disease from drinking more coffee. It’s possible that some of the benefits of drinking coffee — such as its apparent protective effect against heart failure — could outweigh its apparent cholesterol-raising effect.

It’s also worth noting that the size of cholesterol changes linked to coffee in the study were fairly small. If each cup of coffee that you drink raises LDL cholesterol by only 1.26 mg/dl, even drinking six cups of coffee each day might not raise your LDL cholesterol in a way that significantly raises your risk of cardiovascular disease. To put this in perspective, current guidelines in the United States recommend an LDL cholesterol level below 100 mg/dl, and a total cholesterol level between 125 and 200 mg/dl, for adults ages 20 and older, according to the National Library of Medicine.

So for now, the evidence suggests that there isn’t any overwhelming health benefit or risk from drinking coffee that applies to everyone. Instead, your decision to drink (or not drink) coffee should be based on its effects on you as an individual, and whether those effects enhance or detract from your health — including whether the enjoyment you get from coffee is a boost to your quality of life.

Want to learn more about coffee and diabetes? Read “Is Coffee Good for Diabetes?”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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