Long-term, heavy coffee consumption and plasma lipid profiles — UK Biobank data

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Long-term, heavy coffee consumption – six or more cups a day – may lead to unfavourable lipid profile, which could potentially increase risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), found a world first genetic study from the Australian Centre for Precision Health at the University of South Australia.

"There's certainly a lot of scientific debate about the pros and cons of coffee, but while it may seem like we're going over old ground, it's essential to fully understand how one of the world's most widely consumed drinks can impact our health," said UniSA researcher, Professor Elina Hyppönen.

"In this study we looked at genetic and phenotypic associations between coffee intake and plasma lipid profiles – the cholesterols and fats in your blood – finding causal evidence that habitual coffee consumption contributes to an adverse lipid profile which can increase your risk of heart disease.

"High levels of blood lipids are a known risk factor for heart disease, and interestingly, as coffee beans contain a very potent cholesterol-elevating compound (cafestol), it was valuable to examine them together.

"Cafestol is mainly present in unfiltered brews, such as French press, Turkish and Greek coffees, but it's also in espressos, which is the base for most barista-made coffees, including lattes and cappuccinos.

"There is no, or very little cafestol in filtered and instant coffee, so with respect to effects on lipids, those are good coffee choices.

"The implications of this study are potentially broad-reaching. In my opinion it is especially important for people with high cholesterol or who are worried about getting heart disease to carefully choose what type of coffee they drink.

Globally, an estimated 3bn cups of coffee are consumed every day. Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally, taking an estimated 17.9m lives each year.

The study used data from 362,571 UK Biobank participants, aged 37-73 years, using a triangulation of phenotypic and genetic approaches to conduct comprehensive analyses.

While the jury still may be out on the health impacts of coffee, Hyppönen says it is always wise to choose filtered coffee when possible and be wary of overindulging, especially when it comes to a stimulant such as coffee.

"With coffee being close to the heart for many people, it's always going to be a controversial subject," Hyppönen says.

"Our research shows, excess coffee is clearly not good for cardiovascular health, which certainly has implications for those already at risk.

"Of course, unless we know otherwise, the well-worn adage usually fares well – everything in moderation – when it comes to health, this is generally good advice."


Study details
Habitual coffee intake and plasma lipid profile: Evidence from UK Biobank

Ang Zhou, Elina Hyppönen

Published in Clinical Nutrition on 10 January 2021

Background & aims
There is evidence that long-term heavy coffee consumption may adversely affect individuals’ cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. As hyperlipidemia is a well-established contributor to CVD risk, we investigated the association between habitual coffee intake and plasma lipid profile.
We used data from up to 362,571 UK Biobank participants to examine phenotypic associations between self-reported coffee intake and plasma lipid profiles, including low-density-lipoproteins cholesterol (LDL-C), high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), total cholesterol (total-C), triglycerides, and apolipoproteins A1 and B (ApoA1 and ApoB). Mendelian randomization (MR) analysis using genetically instrumented coffee intake was used to interrogate the causal nature of coffee–lipid associations.
We observed a positive dose-dependent association between self-reported coffee intake and plasma concentration of LDL-C, ApoB and total-C, with the highest lipid levels seen among participants reported drinking >6 cups/day (P linear trend≤ 3.24E-55 for all). Consistently, in MR analyses using genetically instrumented coffee intake one cup higher coffee intake was associated with a 0.07 mmol/L (95% CI 0.03 to 0.12), 0.02 g/L (95% CI 0.01 to 0.03), and 0.09 mmol/L (95% CI 0.04 to 0.14) increase in plasma concentration of LDL-C, ApoB, and total-C, respectively.
Our phenotypic and genetic analyses suggest that long-term heavy coffee consumption may lead to unfavourable lipid profile, which could potentially increase individuals’ risk for CVD. These findings may have clinical relevance for people with elevated LDL cholesterol.


Clinical Nutrition study (Restricted access)



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