Coffee and Cholesterol Levels

Recent findings reported in the Center for Disease Control’s Vital Signs show that one in six adults have high cholesterol. This puts them at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading cause of death in the United States.    Whether or not coffee consumption contributes to the development of CVD is still unclear, however, there may be a link between high cholesterol and unfiltered coffee and here is how…

First of all, what is cholesterol? 

As defined by WebMD, cholesterol is a "waxy, fat-like substance made in the liver and other cells and found in certain foods, such as food from animals, like dairy products, eggs, and meat.”  Our bodies need cholesterol in order to function properly, but if too much is present then health problems may develop.  When there is an excess of cholesterol in the body, plaque forms in the body’s arteries, narrowing the space for blood flow to the heart.  Eventually, all of this buildup causes hardening of the arteries called atherosclerosis, which leads to CVD.

Treatment for CVD accounts for $1 in every $6 US health dollars spent.  This costs the nation a staggering $300 billion every year in direct medical costs and that number is rapidly increasing!

In order for cholesterol to travel through the blood, it has to attach itself to a protein.  This duo is called a lipoprotein.  The main types of cholesterol that you are probably familiar with are low density lipoproteins (LDL) and high density lipoproteins (HDL).  LDL or “bad” cholesterol can cause the buildup of plaque on the wall of the arteries.  The more LDL there is in the blood, the greater the risk of heart disease.  On the other hand, HDL or “good” cholesterol helps the body get rid of bad cholesterol in the blood.  The lower the HDL levels then the greater your risk of CVD.

Coffee and Cholesterol

There have been recent studies citing that drinking unfiltered coffee, such as prepared with a French press or percolator, is related to an increase in LDL levels.  One study conducted in 2001 by Doctor Michael Klag looked at the relationship between coffee consumption and cholesterol levels.  Klag and his colleagues found that drinking an average of six cups of coffee a day was associated with increased total cholesterol and LDL.  However, most cases of increased “bad” cholesterol levels were linked to unfiltered coffee.

The culprit is believed to be caused by the diterpenes cafestol and kahweol that are only found in coffee.  In several studies, it was found that cafestol and kahweol are responsible for strongly affecting lipid metabolism with short-term intake as well as long-term consumption of unfiltered coffee.  Filtered coffee reduces the cholesterol-raising  effect seen in unfiltered coffee by 80%!

Klag also discovered in his 1994 study that there is an association between coffee consumption and an increased risk of heart disease, but most of the increased risk was linked to the consumption of coffee before 1975.  This was due to drip coffee makers becoming more widely used in the U.S. in the mid-70’s, making filtered coffee the standard way to prepare coffee.

Should you stop using the French press?

This does not mean that you should stop using your French press, especially because as Klag points out cholesterol levels are a “combination of how you live, what you eat, and what genes you inherit.”  If you live a healthy lifestyle and have low cholesterol, then you probably do not need to worry about the effects of unfiltered coffee.  Smoking, being overweight, and having high blood pressure each have an increased risk of CVD than drinking unfiltered coffee.

However, it is also good to be on the safe side! I would suggest using an Aerobie Aeropress over the French press.  Unlike the French press, the Aeropress has a micro-filter, which will remove the cholesterol-raising oils.  Additionally, the concentrate made by the Aeropress can be drank as an espresso shot, mixed with milk for lattes, or diluted to make an Americano coffee.  Now can the French press do all of that?  I don’t think so!

Learn more about the Aeropress and how to use it here, and make the switch today!


Find out more information from the journal articles I used below.

Coffee Intake and Risk of Hypertension by Klag

Unfiltered Coffee Increases Plasma Homocysteine Concentrations in Healthy Volunteers: A Randomized Trial by Grubben

Habitual Caffeine Intake and the Risk of Hypertension in Women by Winkelmayer

Diterpenes From Coffee Beans Decreases Serum Levels of Lipoprotein(a) in Humans by Urgert