Mechanisms – beyond caffeine

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In the past, it was thought that any effect of coffee on the cardiovascular system was likely to be due to caffeine. Many studies therefore only tested for the effect of caffeine. However, consideration should be given to other factors, such as polyphenols, as well as the potential effect on circulating cholesterol levels.


The coffee components responsible for increasing cholesterol are cafestol and kahweol43. These are naturally-occurring compounds found in coffee oil. Whether these compounds permeate in the brew and to what extent depends on the brewing method.

Filtered coffee and soluble coffee contain hardly any cafestol or kahweol and have virtually no effect on the cholesterol levels4. Moderate consumption of espresso also has a negligible effect, as levels of cholesterol-raising compounds are approximately half that of unfiltered coffee and serving sizes are small47. However, Scandinavian boiled coffee, Cafetière (plunger pot), Greek and Turkish coffee contain cafestol and kahweol in higher amounts4,43-47. Consuming substantial amounts of these types of coffees can raise serum cholesterol levels4,43-47. The effects on the cholesterol level are transient after the cessation of consumption4,43-47.


The antioxidant potential of different foods and beverages also provide further insight into potential mechanisms. Different antioxidant compounds found in coffee may affect the body. Research published in 2016 concluded that coffee consumption increases the antioxidant capacity of plasma and the overall effect of this on the body could be interesting50, but there is a need for further research on the bioactive and potential health-related roles of these compounds before conclusions can be drawn77.

A 2017 review of polyphenols and health concluded that although many of the protective effects of coffee have been associated with chlorogenic acids, there are very few intervention studies on pure chlorogenic acids in humans.  The author added that one of the difficulties in making conclusions on the polyphenol component of coffee is separating out the effects of caffeine, which itself has notable biological activity78.

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