Decaffeinated Coffee & LDL Cholesterol

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Having a high level of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL -- bad cholesterol -- increases your risk. You may know that diet and lifestyle factors contribute to your risk of heart disease. However, you may be unaware that your daily cup of coffee may influence your cholesterol levels. Data suggests decaffeinated, not caffeinated coffee, may harm heart health, but current research is extremely limited and concrete conclusions cannot be drawn.

LDL's Role in Heart Disease

Heart disease is characterized by atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. This occurs when plaque builds up in your artery walls, causing them to become stiff. Over time, the buildup of plaque makes your arteries narrow, which forces your heart to work harder to pump blood throughout your body. This plaque can also break off and cause a blockage, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. LDL is the adversary of heart health because it contributes to atherosclerosis.

Decaffeinated Coffee Raises LDL Cholesterol

The American Heart Association presented the findings of a study showing decaffeinated coffee increases LDL cholesterol. In the study, participants were divided into three groups: One group drank 3 cups of caffeinated coffee, the second groups drank 3 cups of decaf and the third group had no coffee. After three months, the decaffeinated group, not the other two groups, experienced an 8 percent rise in apolipoprotein B -- a component of LDL cholesterol. The findings were presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2005.

Other Effects on Cholesterol

Not only did decaf coffee raise LDL cholesterol, but in normal-weight participants, it also decreased HDL, which is a good form of cholesterol. The AHA presented information showing decaffeinated coffee decreased HDL by 30 percent in those who were at a normal weight. HDL protects against atherosclerosis by removing LDL from your arteries. Curiously, in overweight participants, decaffeinated coffee increased HDL by 50 percent.

Cutting Back May Help

Researchers are unsure why decaffeinated coffee negatively impacts cholesterol levels, but authors note that the AHA study is the first non-industry-sponsored research showing the potentially negative impact of decaffeinated coffee on heart heath. Caffeinated and decaffeinated coffees are often made from different species of beans, according to the AHA study. Caffeinated coffee is typically made from arabica beans, while decaffeinated coffee is often made from robusta beans. The difference in the type of beans may play a role in their effects. Keep in mind that the study used the dose of 3 cups of coffee per day, which the AHA reports as the average consumption in the U.S. The authors of the study report that drinking 1 cup of decaf coffee per day is unlikely to have a relevant impact.