I never developed a taste for coffee and don’t get a buzz from caffeine, but I have been following accumulating evidence on coffee’s effects on health. The latest news comes from Sweden, where researchers determined that filtered coffee is safer for health than other types of brewed coffee. Study leader Dag S. Thelle, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at the University of Gothenburg, reported that unfiltered coffee contains substances that increase cholesterol levels and that using a filter removes them, reducing risk of heart attack and premature death.
Earlier research from Professor Thelle and his team showed that drinking coffee was associated with higher cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol. They also reported that a cup of unfiltered coffee contains about 30 times the concentration of substances that raise cholesterol compared to a cup of filtered coffee.
To find out whether drinking unfiltered coffee leads to more heart attacks and death from heart disease, he and his team launched a population study that included 508,747 healthy Norwegians between the ages of 20 and 79. All the participants completed a questionnaire on the amount and type of coffee they consumed. The researchers also looked at other factors that could influence the risk of heart disease, such as smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, education, physical activity, height and weight. Participants were followed for an average of 20 years, during which 46,341 died, 12,621 as a result of cardiovascular disease.
The overall results showed that drinking filtered coffee was apparently better for health than not drinking any coffee at all. Filtered coffee consumption was associated with a 15 percent reduced risk of death from any cause, with a 12 percent lower risk of death in men and a 20 percent lower risk in women compared to drinking no coffee. Study participants who consumed one to four cups of filtered coffee daily had the lowest mortality.
Professor Thelle said the difference couldn’t be explained by factors such as age, gender or other lifestyle habits. The study also showed that drinking unfiltered coffee did not increase the risk of death compared to not consuming any coffee, except in men age 60 and older, where unfiltered coffee was associated with higher rates of deaths from cardiovascular disease.
During the course of the study, some women and young men switched from unfiltered to filtered coffee, a change that reduced the link between coffee consumption and cardiovascular deaths. Older men were less likely to make the change.
Professor Telle advised people with high cholesterol to stay away from unfiltered coffee.
While these are interesting findings, my view remains that the way coffee affects you is your surest guide to whether or not you should be drinking it at all, and if so, how much.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Dag S. Thelle et al, “Coffee consumption and mortality from cardiovascular diseases and total mortality: Does the brewing method matter?” European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, April 23, 2020, doi.org/10.1177/2047487320914443