Coffee spikes your Cholesterol: the Cafestol and Kahweol effect

The bad news of a high cholesterol reading was a bit of a shock for me.

308 reading

I knew my diet had slipped (too much red meat, too much cheese: I love cheese). Equally,  I knew that to reduce  cholesterol  “all you had to do”  was cut down on red meat and saturated fat.

I’d been doing blood work for some of my clients and was able to  use my home blood test machine to check my level.

I was horrified.

3 weeks after a major diet shift my cholesterol remained  stupidly high. I looked over  the guidelines again, and  focused on the fibre content, so I bought fibre ( oat and wheat) and added that. Rather than my horror 311 readings I was getting 270’s 280’s.

Still,  80 points over my threshold.

I then started daily tests and compared the results with my food diary. I saw days where I had nothing but some fruit and a few cups of coffee with stupid cholesterol levels.

Equally, I noticed a no coffee day, producing a low reading.

I started researching coffee.  A lot.

What I rediscovered was this.

By the turn of the  20th century, medical, and food researchers knew one thing for sure.

Unfiltered coffee is a cholesterol bomb. There were so many studies all saying the same thing, and much of the research can be seen in this report

“Cafestol and Kahweol.  Review of Toxicological Literature 1999”.

Source here

Drink unfiltered coffee and it sends your Cholesterol rocketing due to two chemicals in coffee called Cafestol and Kahweol.

The numerous tests and reports quoted in the review of Toxicological Literature nailed this fact to the mast  (see appendix 1)

So why doesn’t every coffee shop in the UK have a massive warning plastered all over it? Everybody hears how bad red meat and saturated fat  is for cholesterol, so when you see your doctor after a high cholesterol test, why don’t they ask about your coffee consumption?

Well, everybody loves coffee. So there is an understandable bias in its favour.

Crucially in the 1990’s when this was discovered, most people drank filtered coffee “the cholesterol-raising effect seems to be limited to coffee that hasn’t been filtered, which includes Turkish coffee, coffee brewed in a French press, and the boiled coffee consumed in Scandinavia”   . (Harvard health in 2012 ) in fact “The cholesterol-raising ingredients in coffee are oily substances called diterpenes, and the two main types in coffee are cafestol (pronounced CAF-es-tol) and kahweol (pronounced KAH-we-awl).

But a paper filter traps most of the cafestol and kahweol, so coffee that’s been filtered probably has little, if any, effect on cholesterol levels.”

This was fine back in the last 20th century.  We mainly drank filtered coffee then .

I’m 58, I know.

But Guess what? Since the start of the 21st century unfiltered coffee consumption has rocketed. While some coffee shops have an unfiltered coffee option, most push and market unfiltered coffee

I don’t know how many coffee shops there were in 1999, but since 2008 the amount of coffee shops in the UK have grown from 10,000 to 25,000 in 2019. Most  coffee shops offer unfiltered coffee.

Thats a lot of cholesterol raising!

So, I should make it clear, I love coffee. The only effect  this  rediscovery has had  on me is to switch to filtered coffee. I’ve even cut filter paper into  small  circles to put into espresso machines. Some coffee shop don’t mind doing this.

The real horror is this.

If I had gone back to my doctor, they would have pushed me to go on statins. They would not have even mentioned coffee. Im guessing that anyone who has 2 cups of unfiltered coffee a day, and is on statins, should drink filtered coffee and get retested ( having chatted to their doctor first , ofcourse)

In balance I should say that coffee and caffeine have health effects. I think, almost all of which can be obtained through the filtered variety.


188 reading
with filtered coffee my readings returned to “normal”



Appendix 1

In an open randomized study, healthy male and female volunteers who drank coffee containing 148 mg cafestol and kahweol daily for 30 days exhibited a considerable rise in total cholesterol (average mean, 31.6%), low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (50.2%), and triglyceride concentrations (87%) versus the control group (Heckers et al., 1994).

In three volunteers, consumption of highly purified cafestol (73 mg/day; 0.23 mmol/day) and kahweol (58 mg/day; 0.19 mmol/day) as the corresponding mono- and dipalmitates for 6 weeks increased the serum levels of cholesterol by 66 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L) and triglycerides by 162 mg/dL (1.83 mmol/L) (Weusten-Van der Wouw et al., 1994).

In a randomized, crossover trial using healthy, normolipemic volunteers, six subjects received 2 g Arabica oil containing 72 mg (0.23 mmol) cafestol per day and 53 mg (0.17 mmol) kahweol per day, and five subjects received 2 g Robusta oil providing 40 mg (0.13 mmol) cafestol per day and 2 mg (0.006 mmol) kahweol per day (Mensink et al., 1995). Compared to a control group given placebo oil, serum triglyceride levels increased 71% in the group receiving Arabica oil and 61% in the group given Robusta oil. Serum cholesterol concentrations were increased by 13% for both oils.


Cafestol and Kahweol.  Review of Toxicological Literature 1999  accessed online  (Sept/Oct 2019)

Heckers, H., U. Göbel, and U. Kleppel. 1994. End of the coffee mystery: Diterpene alcohols raise serum low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride levels. J. Intern. Med. 235(2):192-193.

Weusten-Van der Wouw, M.P.M.E., M.B. Katan, R. Viani, A.C. Huggett, R. Liardon, P.G. Lund-Larsen, D.S. Thelle, I. Ahola, A. Aro, S. Meyboom, and A.C. Beynen. 1994. Identity of the cholesterol-raising factor from boiled coffee and its effects on liver function enzymes. J. Lipid Res. 35:721-733.