Espresso Linked with Higher Cholesterol in Men

When it comes to choosing beverages that support good health, we know to avoid sugary drinks that carry empty calories and can lead to weight gain and blood sugar problems, but the science is less clear on the benefits versus the harms of drinking coffee.  Recent studies have found that not only is the amount of coffee one consumes important but also the brewing method. If you prefer espresso, this information may give you pause.

As reported recently by AARP Health, a new study published in the online journal Open Heart found that adult men, especially those who regularly drank espresso, had a greater risk of having raised cholesterol than those who drank coffee brewed through a filter.   Three naturally-occurring chemicals in coffee – diterpenes, cafestol, and kahweol are believed to contribute to elevated cholesterol levels in the blood.   Higher cholesterol in the blood is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and may reduce the benefits of other chemicals in coffee linked with lowering the risk for type 2 diabetes. 

The new research focuses specifically on espresso, a popular way to brew coffee in Norway – where the study was conducted.   More than 21,000 residents participated in the long-term study that found drinking between 3 and 5 cups of espresso a day increased the risk for higher total cholesterol among adults (particularly men) compared with those who did not drink espresso.  Blood cholesterol was raised on average by 0.16mmol/l (millimoles per liter) for men and 0.09mml/l for women. 

Drinking coffee made with a French press also increased average blood cholesterol in both men and women.  However, men who drank filtered coffee, even up to six cups a day, demonstrated no difference in blood cholesterol than those who did not drink coffee.  Women who drank filtered coffee experienced on average a 0.11mmol/l increase in their blood cholesterol. 

Researchers are unclear as to why there is a difference between men and women in the connection with expresso and raised blood cholesterol levels.  The discrepancy could be linked to how men and women reported their coffee drinking habits, or what constitutes the exact size of a cup of coffee.   Different methods of making coffee and espresso, along with different types of beans, may also contribute to varying levels of chemicals present in the finished product.   Arabica beans contain a higher level of diterpenes that can raise cholesterol than Robusta beans, for example. 

The takeaway?  

No amount of research will likely convince dedicated coffee drinkers to give up their morning Java.  But perhaps, the research will give people with high cholesterol, especially men, a nudge to consume less, and perhaps reconsider their coffee brewing method.  Using a drip or pour-over coffee process with a filter, instead of espresso or French press, may also help to lower the risk of increasing blood cholesterol.   Learn how to make pour-over coffee, and perhaps win Dad over in time for Father’s Day, by following this link to Epicurious.