Coffee & Cholesterol

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This post was triggered by a recent online question about the cholesterol-raising effects of coffee: “Does coffee raise cholesterol, in particular LDL”? I have conducted a brief review of material available online from “trusted sources”, e.g. Harvard Health Publishing, PubMed, Elsevier and others.

Disclaimer: this is a review based on limited material reviewed and intended to provide some insight into the topic. It is not intended to provide a scientifically validated, peer reviewed report on the matter. No advice regarding the consumption of coffee is given.

Compounds affecting cholesterol

In a nutshell, coffee contains two compounds that do expose pharmacological effects, namely the diterpenes cafestol1 and kahweol2. Multiple studies have found them to expose cholesterol-raising effects. One study I found dating back to 1994 has identified these compounds to trigger the cholesterol raise by comparing coffee-oil consumption in 15 healthy volunteers3. Another study conducted in 2000 concludes that “Consumption of cafestol and kahweol cause a long-term increase in CETP as well as PLTP activity; the increase in CETP activity may contribute to the rise in LDL cholesterol.”4

How to eliminate the diterpenes from my coffee?

The good news is that these two compounds can be stripped from the brewed coffee by filtering5: “Scandinavian-style boiled coffee and Turkish-style coffee contained the highest amounts, equivalent to 7.2 and 5.3 mg cafestol per cup and 7.2 and 5.4 mg kahweol per cup, respectively. In contrast, instant and drip-filtered coffee brews contained negligible amounts of these diterpenes, and espresso coffee contained intermediate amounts, about 1 mg cafestol and 1 mg kahweol per cup.”

The anti-carcinogenic properties of coffee

On the flip side, it is these compounds that are thought of as having anti-carcinogenic properties as a study conducted in 2002 states6: “Altogether, the data on the biological effects of C+K provide a plausible hypothesis to explain some anti-carcinogenic effects of coffee observed in human epidemiological studies and in animal experiments.”

An excellent overview of the topic is provided in the Harvard Health Publishing article What is it about coffee?


  • Certain brews of coffee contain amounts of the diterpenes cafestol and kahweol that are pharmacologically and biologically active.
  • Increase in blood triglycerides and LDL in particular have been measured in healthy volunteers across multiple studies.
  • The diterpenes can be filtered out by drip-brewing coffee.
  • Both molecules are found to have anti-carcinogenic effects.


  3. Weusten-Van der Wouw, M. P. M. E., Katan, M. B., Viani, R., Huggett, A. C., Liardon, R., Lund-Larsen, P. G., Thelle, D. S., Ahola, I., Aro, A., Meyhoom, S., & Beynen, A. C. (1994). Identity of the cholesterol-raising factor from boiled coffee and its effects on liver function enzymes. Journal of Lipid Research.
  4. De Roos, B., Van Tol, A., Urgert, R., Scheek, L. M., Van Gent, T., Buytenhek, R., Princen, H. M. G., & Katan, M. B. (2000). Consumption of French-press coffee raises cholesteryl ester transfer protein activity levels before LDL cholesterol in normolipidaemic subjects. Journal of Internal Medicine.
  5. Gross, G., Jaccaud, E., & Huggett, A. C. (1997). Analysis of the content of the diterpenes cafestol and kahweol in coffee brews. Food and Chemical Toxicology.
  6. Cavin, C., Holzhaeuser, D., Scharf, G., Constable, A., Huber, W. W., & Schilter, B. (2002). Cafestol and kahweol, two coffee specific diterpenes with anticarcinogenic activity. Food and Chemical Toxicology.


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