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Decaffeinated coffee and cholesterol.


Surely nothing could be less harmful in one's diet than the good old "cuppa," especially when taken black and decaffeinated. Wrong! Stanford University researchers now report that decaf drinkers may have as much as a 7 percent rise in blood levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol--the "bad" cholesterol that puts us at greater risk of coronary heart disease or heart attack.

This startling revelation, presented at the recent annual scientific meeting of the American Heart Association, is based on a study of 181 men who were asked to drink their usual three to six cups of coffee a day without cream or sugar, using the same well-known brand and a standard drip-and-filter method of preparation. Medical data, including cholesterol levels, were recorded for two months, after which one-third of the group was switched to the same brand's decaffeinated coffee, one-third continued to drink the caffeinated coffee, and one-third gave up coffee altogether.

During the first two months, the group had cholesterol levels in the recommended normal range, averaging 200-210 mg. total cholesterol and 140 mg. LDL cholesterol. Two months later, the LDL level of the decaf group had risen as much as 7 percent, whereas it had actually dropped slightly in the other two groups. Although the researchers could not explain the reasons for their findings, they think it may have to do with the fact that a different type of coffee bean is usually used in decaffeinated coffee to give it a stronger flavor.

On the basis of these findings, decaf drinkers might be inclined to go back to regular coffee, but for persons who have problems with caffeine, such as those with irregular heart rhythms, this may not be desirable. Persons actively seeking to lower above-normal cholesterol levels should probably reduce or give up their coffee intake if they cannot safely drink regular coffee.

If further studies support these findings, and if the problem cannot be corrected by changing the decaffeinating process, persons with normal cholesterol levels who cannot tolerate caffeine and do not wish to give up coffee might be able to offset the negative effects of decaffeinated coffee by increasing their daily intake of soluble fiber. As has been previously reported, a daily intake of 12-15 grams of soluble fiber, together with a low-fat diet, has been shown to decrease LDL cholesterol by as much as 15 percent. Oat bran is being highly touted these days as a source of soluble fiber, but a lot of calories go along with all the cereal, bread and muffins required to provide a daily intake of 12-15 grams. A better source of soluble fiber is psyllium seed powder, the active ingredient in Metamucil and available in generic form as psyllium hydrophilicmucilloid, a teaspoonful of which dissolves easily in a few ounces of orange juice. It is also now available in some breakfast cereals, such as General Mills' "Benefit" and Kellogg's "Heartwise."
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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