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Drinking This Much Coffee May Cause Heart Disease, Study Says

New research shows a compound in coffee beans could raise your cholesterol—if you drink too much.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

Coffee has several health benefits—it provides antioxidants, may benefit your brain, and gives you that undeniably glorious boost in the morning. However, new research shows that drinking too much coffee in the long-term can increase your risk of heart disease.

In a new study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, researchers looked at the genetic and phenotypic (observable) associations between self-reported coffee intake and blood cholesterol levels, using data from 362,571 UK Biobank participants ages 37 to 73.

They found that drinking six or more cups of coffee per day can increase the amount of lipids (fats) in your blood and significantly heighten your risk of heart disease. It was a dose-dependent association: The more coffee you drink, the greater your risk. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now).

Coffee beans contain cafestol, which is a potent cholesterol-elevating compound extracted by hot water.

"Cafestol directly regulates the expression of genes involved in cholesterol metabolism, leading to increased cholesterol synthesis," says study author Elina Hyppönen. "It is the most potent cholesterol-elevating compound in the human diet."

That said, its concentration in coffee depends on the beans and brewing methods. The highest amount of cafestol is found in unfiltered boil coffee brews, while a negligible amount is in filtered or instance coffee.

"Cafestol is captured by the filter paper," says Hyppönen. "The good news here is that if one chooses a filter or instant coffee, it is possible to avoid cafestol. However, as with most things in life, moderation is probably wise with coffee intakes."

Every day, an estimated 3 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide, and it's one of the most widely consumed drinks in the world, per the researchers.

If you're a java lover, there's no need to give it up completely unless your doctor advises otherwise. However, Hyppönen does recommend taking three steps to protect your heart:

  1. Get your blood cholesterol levels checked as part of routine health exams. Remember, high levels of cholesterol do not cause symptoms.
  2. Choose filtered or instant coffee to avoid the cholesterol-elevating effects of coffee.
  3. Be mindful about what you put in your coffee and what you have with your coffee on the side (say, heavy cream or cookies).

And for more on keeping your brew healthy, 10 Coffee Hacks for Weight Loss, According to Registered Dietitians.

Kelsey Kloss
Kelsey Kloss is a health and nutrition writer based in New York City. Read more
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