Espresso Coffee’s Impact on Serum Total Cholesterol

That morning shot of espresso may be doing more than simply waking you up — it also could be increasing your cholesterol. According to a population-based, cross-sectional study published online in Open Heart, espresso consumption is significantly associated with higher serum total cholesterol levels, especially in men.

As part of the Tromsø Study, researchers in Norway studied more than 21,000 people with a mean age of 56.4. They employed a multivariable linear regression technique, examining the link between the frequency of coffee consumption (the reference point) and serum total cholesterol levels, or S-TC (the dependent variable). 

“Men drinking 3–5 cups of espresso per day had 0.16 mmol/L (95% CI 0.07 to 0.24) higher S-TC level than men drinking 0 cups of espresso per day. The difference for men who drank ≥6 cups was 0.14mmol/L (95%CI 0.00 to 0.28). Women drinking 3–5 cups of espresso per day had 0.09 mmol/L (95% CI 0.01 to 0.17) higher S-TC level than women drinking 0 cups of espresso per day, but test for linear trend was borderline significant (p=0.052). In complete case analysis, however, there was a significant linear trend (p=0.023) and consumption of 3–5 cups of espresso per day was associated with an increased S-TC of 0.13 mmol/L (95% CI 0.04 to 0.23).” 

Possible Explanations

Coffee contains compounds that can raise serum cholesterol — most notably the diterpenes cafestol and kahweol. Diterpene content is dependent on the brewing method, with boiled and plunger coffee having higher levels of cafestol and kahweol than other types of brewed coffee, such as instant or filtered coffee. Clinical trials on the connection between espresso and serum cholesterol are scant, so more research is needed.

The researchers point out that combining other coffee brews with espresso may account for the rise in serum total cholesterol. Having said that, the analysis was performed both with and without adjusting for combined coffee habits. The link between espresso and serum total cholesterol was strengthened when adjusting for other coffee types, suggesting that espresso alone increases cholesterol. The questionnaire used included a wide definition of espresso, from coffee machines to capsules to Moka pots.


“This study assessed the association between S-TC and consumption of variously brewed coffee in men and women in Tromsø7. The observed associations varied with the brewing method. Espresso was significantly associated with raised S-TC, with a stronger association for men than for women. Boiled/plunger coffee consumption was significantly associated with raised S-TC in both women and men. Filtered coffee was significantly associated with increased S-TC in women. There was no dose-response relationship between increasing consumption of instant coffee and S-TC. Further research on espresso should be conducted.”