The gender of the drinker as well as the brewing method may be key to the link between coffee and increased cholesterol, a known risk factor for heart disease, suggests research published in the open-access journal Open heart.
Espresso consumption was associated with the largest gender difference in cholesterol levels; French press (coffee maker) coffee was associated with the narrowest, according to the results.
The chemicals naturally found in coffee – diterpenes, cafestol and kahweol – raise blood cholesterol levels. The brewing method is influential, but it’s unclear what impact espresso coffee might have and in what quantities.
The researchers therefore wanted to compare espresso coffee to other brewing methods in adults aged 40 and over (56 years on average).
They relied on data from 21,083 participants (11,074 women and 10,009 men) who responded to the seventh survey of the Tromsø Study in 2015-2016, a long-term population-based study, which began in 1974. , involving residents of the Norwegian city of Tromsø.
Participants were asked how many cups of coffee per day they drank – none, 1-2 cups; 3–5; and 6 or more – and what type of infusion they drank – filtered; plunger (coffee maker); espresso from coffee machines, pods, moka pots, etc. ; and instant.
Blood samples were taken and height and weight measured. Information was also sought on potentially influencing factors: diet and lifestyle, including smoking, alcohol consumption and physical activity; education level; and whether type 2 diabetes had been diagnosed.
Women drank an average of just under 4 cups of coffee per day while men drank an average of nearly 5.
Data analysis showed that the association between coffee and serum total cholesterol varied by brewing method, with significant gender differences for all types of French press coffee brew.
Consuming 3 to 5 cups of espresso per day was significantly associated with increased serum total cholesterol, particularly in men.
Compared to those who did not drink it, this mode of consumption was associated with an increase of 0.09 mmol/l of serum cholesterol in women. vs. 0.16 mmol/l higher in men.
A daily count of 6 or more cups of French press coffee was also associated with increased cholesterol, and to a similar degree in both sexes: 0.30 mmol/L more in women. vs. 0.23 mmol/l higher in men.
And drinking 6 or more cups of filtered coffee each day was associated with a 0.11 mmol/L increase in cholesterol in women, but not in men, compared to those who did not drink filtered coffee.
While instant coffee was associated with increased cholesterol in both genders, this did not increase in tandem with the number of cups drunk, compared to those who did not opt for powdered/granulated coffee.
The researchers point out that there was no standardized cup size used in their study; Norwegians tend to drink from larger espresso cups than Italians, for example.
Different types of espresso – coffee machines, capsules or moka pots – are also likely to contain different levels of the main natural chemicals.
And there are no obvious explanations yet for the gender difference in cholesterol response to coffee consumption, they add.
“Interestingly, coffee contains more than a thousand diverse phytochemicals. The intake of each compound also depends on the variety of coffee species, degree of roasting, type of brewing method, and portion size,” they explain.
Experimental studies show that cafestol and kahweol, in addition to increasing total cholesterol, have anti-inflammatory effects, protect the liver and reduce the risk of cancer and diabetes, they add.
“This demonstrates how coffee contains compounds that can lead to multiple mechanisms operating simultaneously,” the researchers point out.
And they note: “Coffee is the most frequently consumed central stimulant in the world. Due to the high consumption of coffee, even small health effects can have huge health consequences.
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Association between espresso coffee and total serum cholesterol: the Tromsø study 2015-2016, Open heart (2022). DOI: 10.1136/openhrt-2021-00194
Provided by British Medical Journal
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