Health & Wellbeing

Scientists identify how caffeine reduces bad cholesterol

Scientists identify how caffeine reduces bad cholesterol
A new study uncovered a mechanism for how caffeine in coffee and tea can protect against cardiovascular disease
A new study uncovered a mechanism for how caffeine in coffee and tea can protect against cardiovascular disease
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A new study uncovered a mechanism for how caffeine in coffee and tea can protect against cardiovascular disease
A new study uncovered a mechanism for how caffeine in coffee and tea can protect against cardiovascular disease

Your morning vice might not be that guilty a pleasure after all: coffee seems to have a range of health benefits, but exactly how it affects the body to produce these results remains unknown. A new study has identified specific proteins that caffeine works on, which help the liver remove bad cholesterol from the bloodstream and protect against cardiovascular disease.

Several large-scale, long-term studies have revealed that coffee is good for you in various ways. One study tracked the coffee habits of more than half a million people across Europe for 16 years, and found that those who consumed the most had significantly lower mortality rates than those who abstained. Other research has linked coffee to reductions in prostate cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.

Observations are one thing, but scientists hadn’t identified many mechanisms for how compounds in coffee, particularly caffeine, might bestow these benefits. So for the new study, researchers at McMaster University investigated what might be behind caffeine’s apparent knack for preventing cardiovascular disease.

The team found that regular caffeine consumption was linked to lower levels of a protein called PCSK9 in the bloodstream. Lower levels of this protein boosts the liver’s ability to break down LDL cholesterol, the “bad” type that can block arteries and lead to cardiovascular disease. Not only did caffeine and derivatives of it work directly on PCSK9, but the researchers found that it also blocked the activation of another protein called SREBP2. This in turn also reduces levels of PCSK9 in the blood.

“These findings now provide the underlying mechanism by which caffeine and its derivatives can mitigate the levels of blood PCSK9 and thereby reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Richard Austin, senior author of the study. “Given that SREBP2 is implicated in a host of cardiometabolic diseases, such as diabetes and fatty liver disease, mitigating its function has far reaching implications.”

Of course, it’s not as simple as guzzling coffee to stave off heart disease. Mixing it with cream or sugar (or a donut on the side) may cancel out any positive health effects – and that’s especially true if your caffeine delivery method of choice is soft drinks or energy drinks. Too much caffeine can also be a bad thing, and scientists aren't yet settled on how much is too much. All up, if improving your heart health is the goal, there are probably far more direct methods you could take.

But still, the new work adds to a growing body of research that suggests your caffeine habit may be marginally beneficial – or at least, not actively harmful.

The researchers have created new caffeine derivatives that lower PCSK9 levels in the blood, and hope to develop them into a new type of treatment to lower cholesterol.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: McMaster University

Update (Feb. 17, 2022): This article originally said PCSK9 boosted the liver's ability to break down LDL cholesterol, when it is lower levels of this protein that boosts the liver's ability to do this. We apologize for the error, which has now been corrected, and thank the readers who brought it to our attention.

Rachel Murton
Not quite. LDL is not necessarily bad cholesterol, it depends on what those Low Density Lipids (LDL) are comprised of. Also, cholesterol in your diet or blood, DOES NOT block your arteries. What causes blockages has more to do with the carbohydrates you consume & how often. Carbs raise insulin & blood sugar. Sugar itself (sucrose) is split into two parts, glucose & fructose. The glucose is absorbed in the gut, but fructose is considered differently by our bodies & so is sent straight to the liver where it is converted into triglycerides. These triglycerides are quickly shuttled to our fat cells & will remain there until our insulin levels have dropped significantly enough. When insulin has depleted, only then can those triglycerides be released & used as fuel by our bodies. If our insulin levels remain high for most of the day, ie. if you consume a lot of carbs, then the triglycerides remain in your fat cells, & throughout the day more triglycerides are packed in your fat cells. It’s a build up of these tryglicerides as well as high levels of insulin that cause damage to our bodies. Cholesterol is actually protective for our hearts. Those congestions of cholesterol you see packed into arteries & causing blockages are actually meant to protect our arteries, not block them, it’s more like a Band-Aid solution our bodies employ to fill in damaged areas caused by chronic excess of insulin. Insulin hardens your arteries & if nothing else kills you, insulin always does. Insulin is what ages our organs, this is a natural process, but excessive insulin caused by excessive carbohydrate consumption will more than likely shorten your life quite a bit. Coffee, like every other drug, has its place, but cholesterol & the demonisation of it & particularly the demonisation of LDL is getting old. Studies have actually shown that a high LDL is pro life & those with higher levels of LDL tend to live longer & have less heart disease than people with low LDL. If you are to be concerned about anything in your bloodstream, you should especially focus on insulin raising factors, & also be mindful of what raises your triglyceride levels. Excessive carbohydrate consumption. This is how I have come to understand things, this I believe to be much more factual than saying LDL is bad cholesterol. It can be, but only if you have a carb heavy diet or possibly a metabolic disorder related to your genetics or some other malfunction. Anyway, I said more than I meant, but I mean it more than I say. Have a good healthy life, & enjoy your cholesterol, & enjoy your coffee & your carbs in moderation.
James Barbour
Caffeine blocks the protein that helps the liver? How is blocking a benefit a benefit?
@ Rachel Murton - No doubt you are aware of Prof John Rudkin Author of 'Pure, White & Deadly'? It would be fascinating to get you 2 together as you seem to have worked out a very pragmatic and logical analysis of what is going on (sadly he died many years ago). I really gets my goat that you can still read about how 'calories' define your potential route to obesity and thence potentially Type 2 diabetes, confusing the effects of reasonable (ideally naturally occurring) fat consumption with wholly unreasonable OTT carbohydrate consumption - especially when the latter are the product of much processing.
@Rachel Murton:
Could you cite just a few peer reviewed journal articles that elucidate your insight on LDL? How about VLDL?
How is it Fructose enters the cells freely and muscle cells have stores of fructose if it is sent to the liver instead and turned into triglycerides?
Please provide the sources and we can turn allopathic medicine right around! Please provide peer reviewed sources.
OK, at least so far in the comments, I’ll say it… Yay, another coffee is good (or at least not bad) study!

Straight black coffee, the only way to go, and lots of it.
Douglas Rogers
Totally ignored is the fact that caffeine produces exercise!
Denny A.
The wife and I are in our 60s. We eat the same exact meals. I was a smoker, she never did. I drink more coffee and alcohol then she does.
We have been avoiding fats for many years. She cannot take statins, her CPKs go high and she gets pain when she is on them. She is trying
a new injectable drug now. We both exercise regularly and we eat healthier then anybody else we know. My cholesterol is in the normal range and always has been.
Her's, have always been high. She was diagnosed with severe calcification in her heart and valves. She got a stent and a TAVR this year. I am fine. So, I think there
is a certain amount you can do but for the most part, it's hereditary. On the other hand they say half those who have a heart attack don't have high cholesterol.