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Drinking too much coffee significantly heightens the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), a new study has revealed.

In a world-first genetic study, researchers from the Australian Centre for Precision Health at the University of South Australia have found that long-term, heavy coffee consumption – six or more cups a day – can increase the amount of lipids (fats) in the blood to the point it significantly heightens one’s risk of CVD.

The study used data from 362,571 UK Biobank participants aged 37-73, using a triangulation of phenotypic and genetic approaches to conduct analyses.

Researchers say the correlation is dose-dependent, meaning the more coffee people drink, the greater their risk of CVD.

According to UniSA researcher, Professor Elina Hypponen, the findings show coffee lovers must learn to show caution.

“There’s certainly a lot of scientific debate about the pros and cons of coffee, but while it may seem like we’re going over old ground, it’s essential to fully understand how one of the world’s most widely consumed drinks can impact our health,” she said.

Researchers investigated genetic and phenotypic associations between coffee intake and plasma lipid profiles – the cholesterols and fats in the blood – uncovering causal evidence that habitual coffee consumption contributes to an adverse lipid profile, which can increase the risk of heart disease.

High levels of blood lipids are a known risk factor for heart disease, while coffee beans contain a potent cholesterol-elevating compound (cafestol) that is mainly present in unfiltered brews, such as Turkish and Greek coffees, as well as espressos, which form the base of lattes and cappuccinos.

“There is no, or very little cafestol in filtered and instant coffee, so with respect to effects on lipids, those are good coffee choices,” Professor Hypponen said.

“The implications of this study are potentially broad-reaching. In my opinion, it is especially important for people with high cholesterol or who are worried about heart disease to carefully choose what types of coffee they drink.”

While the jury may still be out on the health impacts of coffee, Professor Hypponen said it is always wise to choose filtered coffee where possible and to be wary of overindulging.