Coffee and cholesterol: Espresso worse for men, filter coffee for women

  • Drinking espresso raises cholesterol levels significantly more in men than women, a new study found.
  • On the other hand, women who drank filter coffee had higher cholesterol levels than men. 
  • Other factors could also be at play, so further research is needed to support these findings.

Espresso sure does have its fair share of health benefits, but it could also lead to higher cholesterol levels – if you’re male – a new study suggests.

Interestingly, boiled or plunger coffee was found to have similar effects on both genders, while filtered coffee increased cholesterol levels in women, but not in men.

The study, published in the open-access journal Open Heart, was based on data from more than 21 000 people aged over 40 from Tromsø in Norway, which is the country with the second-highest coffee consumption in the world.

The researchers developed a comprehensive guide for the relationship between different types of coffee consumption and serum cholesterol – which represents the amount of cholesterol in an individual’s blood.

Participants were asked how many cups of coffee they drank each day, as well as which form they drank (filtered; plunger; espresso from a coffee machine, pods, mocha pots, and instant).

“Coffee is the most frequently consumed central stimulant worldwide,” wrote the authors. “Because of the high consumption of coffee, even small health effects can have considerable health consequences.”

Naturally occurring chemicals

Past research has shown that naturally occurring chemicals in coffee can cause higher levels of cholesterol in the blood, which is associated with heart problems, including stroke.

But what’s behind this? According to the researchers, naturally occurring chemicals in coffee, including diterpenes, cafestol, and kahweol, raise levels of cholesterol in the blood.

In the current study, women drank an average of just under four cups of coffee per day, while men consumed around five on average.

Participants who drank three to five espressos a day were more likely to have higher levels of cholesterol in the blood, compared with those who didn’t drink espresso. Men, however, appeared to have higher concentrations of cholesterol than women.

No significant link between instant coffee and cholesterol levels was noted.

Death rate

The scientists also noted a lower death rate in people who consume filtered coffee compared to those who drink unfiltered or no coffee. Norwegians are also used to large cups of filtered coffee, they said, adding that this habit could also lead to drinking large cups of espresso. One cup of Norwegian espresso is more or less equal to four cups of Italian espresso, research shows.

They wrote: “According to the 2021 ESC Guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention in clinical practice, moderate coffee consumption (3–4 cups per day) is probably not harmful, perhaps even moderately beneficial. 

“However, for espresso coffee, there is no succinct recommendation, although it has been shown that there may be a positive association between espresso and serum cholesterol.”

Important factors to consider

Dr Rigved Tadwalkar, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, told Healthline that there might be other reasons for the study’s results.

He said: “This study was a population-based cross-sectional study, which means that there is a lot of variability in the data collected. There are a number of possible reasons as to why the association between espresso consumption and total cholesterol was stronger for men.”

Men could be drinking larger quantities, he said, while cup sizes could also be larger for men. “Different types of brewing methods predominating with one sex versus the other may also be responsible,” he added. 

Similarly, the researchers highlighted that the chemical make-up of different types of coffee may also play a role in producing these results.

“Interestingly, coffee contains more than a thousand diverse phytochemicals. The intake of each compound also depends on the variety of coffee species, roasting degree, type of brewing method, and serving size,” they wrote. 

How reliable is the study?

The study has key strengths, but the authors cautioned that it relied on self-reported data, which could lead to bias. Their work also didn’t take into account some confounding factors, including whether participants added milk or sugar to their coffee, so the results should be interpreted with caution.

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