The Collison Newsletter November 2009

                         DECAFFEINATED COFFEE

        Is It Caffeine Free?  Can It Affect Cholesterol Levels?*



Caffeine is probably the most widely consumed drug in the world. Coffee is a major source in the supply line.


The amount of caffeine in coffee varies. A cup of the following coffees contains the listed milligrams of caffeine: (

Drip coffee : 115-175

Brewed coffee : 80-135

Espresso coffee : 100

Instant coffee : 65-100


There are few guidelines about how much caffeine is too much, and even low doses may adversely affect some people. Some would say that any caffeine intake is bad for you.


There are various reasons why people switch to decaffeinated coffee. It may be for general health reasons, or possibly because addiction is recognised. Caffeine is linked to certain medical conditions such as anxiety, sleep disturbance or insomnia, kidney disease, hypertension and heart arrhythmia, and when these conditions are present, the doctor prescribes “no coffee”.

How Coffee is Decaffeinated 

Decaffeination is the act of removing caffeine from coffee beans, cocoa, tea leaves and other caffeine-containing substances.


In the case of coffee, various methods can be used. The process is usually performed on unroasted (green) beans, and starts with steaming of the beans. They are then rinsed with a solvent. Coffee contains over 400 chemicals important to the taste and aroma of the final drink. This makes it challenging to remove only caffeine, while leaving the other chemicals at their original concentrations. The Direct Method is one of the methods used to decaffeinate coffee:

“In the direct method the coffee beans are first steamed for 30 minutes and then repeatedly rinsed with either methylene chloride (dichloromethane) or ethyl acetate for about 10 hours. The solvent is then drained away and the beans steamed for an additional 10 hours to remove any residual solvent. Sometimes coffees which are decaffeinated using ethyl acetate are referred to as naturally processed because ethyl acetate can be derived from various fruits and vegetables, but because of the impracticality of gathering ethyl acetate, the chemical used for decaffeination is synthetic.” (Wikipedia)


The International standard is to remove 97 percent of the caffeine in the beans. The EU standard is to have the beans 99.9 percent caffeine free by mass.

Caffeine Content of Decaffeinated Coffee 

Almost all brands of decaffeinated coffee contain some caffeine.


Science Daily (October 2006) said: “Coffee addicts who switch to decaf for health reasons may not be as free from caffeine’s clutches as they think.”


Dr. Bruce Goldberger (professor and director of the University of Florida’s William R. Maples Center for Forensic Medicine) said “If someone drinks five to 10 cups of decaffeinated coffee, the dose of caffeine could easily reach the level present in a cup or two of caffeinated coffee. This could be a concern for people who are advised to cut their caffeine intake, such as those with kidney disease or anxiety disorders.” (October, 2006)


Dr. Goldberger indicated that some people may have adverse effects from even low doses of caffeine. He and his colleagues at the University of Florida conducted a two phase study designed to measure the amount of caffeine remaining in decaffeinated coffees. The study was published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology.


First, 10 x 16-ounce (473ml) decaffeinated drip-brewed coffee beverages were purchased from each of nine national chains or local coffee houses. These were then tested for caffeine content using a gas chromatography method. Every serving but one contained caffeine, ranging from 8.6 milligrams to 13.9 milligrams.


In the study’s second phase, 12 samples of Starbucks decaffeinated espresso and brewed decaffeinated coffee, purchased from a single store were analysed. The espresso drinks contained 3-15.8 milligrams of caffeine per shot, while the brewed coffees had caffeine concentrations ranging from 12-13.4 milligrams per 16 ounce (473ml) serving.


Even though the amount of caffeine in decaffeinated coffees is considered low, Dr Mark Gold, a co-author of the article in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, said that “some people could conceivably develop a physical dependence on the beverages [decaffeinated coffees].”  Dr. Gold is professor of psychiatry at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine. He went on to say “One has to wonder if decaf coffee has enough, just enough, caffeine to stimulate its own taking. Certainly, large cups and frequent cups of decaf would be expected to promote dependence and should be contraindicated in those whose doctors suggested caffeine-free diets.”


“Carefully controlled studies show that caffeine doses as low as 10 milligrams can produce reliable subjective and behavioural effects in sensitive individuals”, said Dr Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioural biology and neuroscience at the John Hopkins School of Medicine.


Decaffeinated is not the same as caffeine-free.


Non-Filtered Coffee and Cholesterol 

There have been conflicting reports about whether coffee drinking elevates serum cholesterol levels.


A summary of a number of publications on this subject is as follows: Serum total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels rose in those who consumed unfiltered boiled coffee. No significant effects on serum cholesterol were found in those who drank filtered coffee compared to those who drank no coffee.


The method used to separate coffee grounds from brew is crucial in determining the hypercholesterolemic potential of coffee beverages. The cholesterol-raising factor is apparently found in the lipid fraction of boiled coffee and is removed by filtration.


Cafestol, a compound found in coffee, elevates blood levels of cholesterol by interfering with a receptor in an intestinal pathway critical to its regulation. Dr. David Moore, professor of molecular and cellular biology, and Dr. M-L Ricketts, both of the Baylor College of Medicine, The Netherlands, have stated that cafestol is the most potent dietary cholesterol-elevating agent known. Dr M. B. Katan, of Vriye Univeriteit Amsterdam, another co-author, found that consuming five cups of ’French press coffee’ (30 milligrams of cafestol) for four weeks raises cholesterol in the blood 6 to 8 percent (Molecular Endocrinology, July 2007).


In filtered coffee, the paper filters removes the coffee oils, which contain cafestol.

Decaffeinated Coffee, Cholesterol and Apolipoproteins 

Dr. H.R. Superko and colleagues at Stanford University carried out a study looking at the effects of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee on plasma lipoprotein cholesterol, apolipoproteins and lipase activity. It was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1991). Follow up results were presented to the American Heart Association 2005 Scientific sessions (November, 2005). At that time Dr. Superko was chairman of molecular, genetic and preventive cardiology center in Atlanta, Georgia.


The prospective, controlled study included 187 individuals who were randomised to either:

·       No coffee  (59 individuals)

·       Caffeinated coffee  (66 individuals)

·       Decaffeinated coffee  (62 individuals).


The dose was three to six cups per day for three months.  The baseline characteristics were similar in all three groups. (US coffee drinkers drink an average of 3 cups of coffee per day.)


Participants were given instructions on how to brew coffee and then were provided with blinded bags of a nationally popular brand of coffee, water and cups, as well as coffee makers and filters. Compliance was measured by weighing the returned bags. Only black coffee was consumed and no cream or sugar was allowed. Food diaries were analysed to confirm that any changes in blood levels were not due to changes in diet.


The researchers measured a variety of factors including blood pressure, body mass index, low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein(HDL) cholesterol levels, nonessential fatty acids (NEFAs) and apolipoprotein B.


At the end of the study, all three groups had similar changes in total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rate and BMI. There was an increase in LDL cholesterol (5-6mg/dL) which was not significant, but “could be clinically relevant when trying to lower an individual patient’s LDL cholesterol level”.


[It should be noted that the way the coffee was brewed (identical in all groups) was not detailed in the article. Presumably, it was unfiltered].


However, significantly, it was found that the decaffeinated group had experienced an 18% rise in NEFAs in the blood and an 8% rise in apolipoprotein B (a protein associated with a cholesterol linked to cardiovascular disease). These findings were not seen in the other groups.


“I believe it’s not caffeinated but decaffeinated coffee that might promote heart disease risk factors. The heart risk is not great - the fatty acids can be burned off easily by exercising, But someone with high-cholesterol, who drinks four or five cups of decaffeinated coffee a day, might want to think about cutting down.” Dr. Superko says.


When the researchers analysed the coffees used in the study, they found that the caffeinated and decaffeinated coffees were made from a different bean. Decaffeinated coffee starts with a harsher bean called coffee robusta and caffeinated coffee comes from Arabic bean which is more mellow. When decaffeinated coffee is produced, the beans go through a process that not only extracts the caffeine but also extracts flavonoids and other ingredients that give its flavour, so manufacturers use a harsher bean to minimise the loss of the important flavours.


The chemical composition of the two beans is very different. Robusta, ie the harsher bean, contains a much higher content of fats (including cafestol) called deptines, which may result in a rise in NEFA levels in the blood by stimulating fatty acid production in the body. The harsher the bean, the more deptines. The rise in NEFAs drives the production of apolipoprotein B which, as already mentioned, is a protein associated with a cholesterol linked to cardiovascular disease.


Coffee, with caffeine or with reduced caffeine ‘decaffeinated’, is highly acid-forming in the body and is best avoided for health reasons (see my September 2005 newsletter ‘Acid Alkali Balance – The Ideal Diet’). Filtering coffee would appear to prevent any adverse effect on blood cholesterol. Decaffeinated coffee results in raised NEFAs and apolipoprotein B which is a concern, and validation of the above studies should be carried out.   


*Copyright 2009: The Huntly Centre.

Disclaimer: All material in the website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.


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