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OBJECTIVE: To study the effects of prolonged intake of cafetière coffee, which is rich in the diterpenes cafestol and kahweol, on serum aminotransferase and lipid concentrations. DESIGN: Randomised parallel controlled trial. SUBJECTS: 46 healthy men and women aged 19 to 69. INTERVENTION: Consumption of five to six strong cups (0.9 litres) a day of either cafetière (22 subjects) or filtered coffee (24 subjects) for 24 weeks. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Mean changes in serum aminotransferase and lipid concentrations. RESULTS: Cafetière coffee raised alanine aminotransferase concentration by up to 80% above baseline values relative to filtered coffee. After 24 weeks the rise was still 45% (9 U/l (95% confidence interval 3 to 15 U/l), P = 0.007). Alanine aminotransferase concentration exceeded the upper limit of normal in eight of the 22 subjects drinking cafetière coffee, being twice the upper limit of normal in three of them. Cafetière coffee raised low density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations by 9-14%. After 24 weeks the rise was 0.26 mmol/l (0.04 to 0.47 mmol/l) (P = 0.03) relative to filtered coffee. Triglyceride concentrations initially rose by 26% with cafetière coffee but returned close to baseline values within six months. All increases were reversible after the intervention was stopped. CONCLUSIONS: Daily consumption of five to six cups of strong cafetière coffee affects the integrity of liver cells as suggested by small increases in serum alanine aminotransferase concentration. The effect does not subside with prolonged intake. High intakes of coffee brews rich in cafestol and kahweol may thus be responsible for unexplained increases in this enzyme activity in apparently healthy subjects. Cafetière coffee also raises low density lipoprotein cholesterol concentration and thus the risk of coronary heart disease.