BALTIMORE -- Doctors at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions are exploring the link between coffee drinking and the development of heart disease, and are looking for men in good health who drink one to five cups a day.

Dr. Roy Fried, a fellow in internal medicine at Hopkins, said the project will study the relationship of coffee drinking, caffeine and blood cholesterol, a fatty substance considered a factor in coronary artery disease.

"Some studies have pointed to associations between coffee and high cholesterol levels," Fried said. "But coffee drinking doesn't occur in a vacuum. It's definitely associated with other health behaviors, such as smoking, or eating red meat, that are also believed to have detrimental effects on blood lipid levels and the heart."

Fried's experiment changes coffee drinking patterns while keeping other facets of participants' lives constant.

The 100 men selected for the study will avoid caffeinated beverages, foods and medicines for two months, then will be assigned randomly to one of four groups.

Depending on the group, they may continue to abstain, drink two cups of regular coffee a day, drink four cups of coffee a day or drink four cups of decaffeinated coffee a day for two months. Their cholesterol levels will be monitored throughout the study.

Americans drink an estimated 10 million gallons of coffee daily.

A study at Hopkins released in 1986 indicated people who drink more than five cups of coffee each day are nearly three times as likely to develop heart disease as those who avoid caffeine.