Making your coffee this way may add years to your life

What’s your morning coffee ritual? There are plenty of ways to brew up some AM (or PM) java, but according to a new study using a filter is the absolute healthiest way to make coffee. Not only is filtered coffee the best way to concoct some caffeine, but it may also lower one’s risk of death from any cause by 15%! 

The study, just released by the European Society of Cardiology, focused primarily on the effect of coffee on one’s cardiovascular health and heart attack risk. 

“Our study provides strong and convincing evidence of a link between coffee brewing methods, heart attacks, and longevity,” says study author Professor Dag S. Thelle of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, in a press release. “Unfiltered coffee contains substances which increase blood cholesterol. Using a filter removes these and makes heart attacks and premature death less likely.”

Coffee is supremely popular all over the world, and tens of millions of people rely on coffee every morning to wake up. Without coffee, the entire world would probably sleep in until 11 most days. While coffee isn’t usually considered unhealthy, Professor Thale made a discovery 30 years ago that upset espresso aficionados the world over. At the time he concluded that drinking coffee is linked to higher overall cholesterol and higher LDL cholesterol (the bad kind).

Luckily, further experiments revealed that a filter can remove the harmful lipid-raising substances found in coffee. On average, a cup of unfiltered coffee contains 30 times more harmful substances than a filtered cup. So, it’s not exactly breaking news that filtered coffee is healthier than unfiltered. But, for this new study, Professor Thelle set out to see if drinking unfiltered coffee really resulted in a higher chance of suffering a heart attack or dying due to heart disease.

“We wondered whether this effect on cholesterol would result in more heart attacks and death from heart disease. But it was unethical to do a trial randomizing people to drink coffee or not. So we set up a large population study and several decades later we are reporting the results,” he explains.

These findings are the result of years of research and tracking. Between 1985 and 2003 a group of 508,747 Norweigan men and women between the ages of 20-79 were tracked after filling out a survey on their coffee habits. Other factors that may have influenced participants’ health outcomes, such as smoking habits, exercise habits, weight, and blood pressure, were considered as well.

Participants were tracked for an average of 20 years, and during that period a total of 46,341 passed away. Among those deaths, 12,621 were due to a cardiovascular problem with about half being caused by a heart attack (6,202).

Sure enough, filtered coffee drinkers saw fewer instances of cardiovascular disease-related death, heart attack-related death, and death from any cause.

“Our analysis shows that this was partly because of the cholesterol-increasing effect of unfiltered coffee,” Professor Thelle says.

Somewhat surprisingly, the final results also indicated that drinking filtered coffee is healthier than not drinking any coffee at all. Compared to no coffee consumption, filtered coffee was linked to a 15% lower risk of death from any cause. Regarding cardiovascular problems specifically, filtered coffee was associated with a 12% lower risk of death among men and a 20% lower risk among women. These benefits were most prominent among studied adults who reported drinking anywhere from one to four cups of coffee per day.

“The finding that those drinking the filtered beverage did a little better than those not drinking coffee at all could not be explained by any other variable such as age, gender, or lifestyle habits. So we think this observation is true,” Professor Thelle notes.

In comparison to no coffee at all, unfiltered coffee wasn’t found to raise the risk of death among most participants, except older men above the age of 60. However, Professor Thelle believes that finding may be a bit misleading.

“We only had one measurement of coffee consumption, but we know that brewing habits were changing in Norway during the follow-up period. We believe that some women and younger men drinking unfiltered coffee switched to filtered, thereby reducing the strength of the association with cardiovascular mortality, whereas older men were less inclined to change their habits,” he theorizes. 

Many avid coffee drinkers say all they need to get out of bed in the morning is the faintest aroma of a freshly brewed pot. These findings shouldn’t discourage anyone from giving up their cherished cup of morning joe, but it sounds like we would all benefit from making sure it’s filtered.

In conclusion, while Professor Thelle stresses that these findings are ultimately observational and by definition not entirely conclusive, he says he would offer the following advice: “For people who know they have high cholesterol levels and want to do something about it, stay away from unfiltered brew, including coffee made with a cafetière. For everyone else, drink your coffee with a clear conscience and go for filtered.”

The full study can be found here, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.