Health and Medicine

Drinking Coffee May Protect The Liver From Alcohol Damage

February 25, 2016 | by Ben Taub

Coffee beans
Photo credit: Two cups of coffee day was found to reduce the risk of alcohol-related cirrhosis by 43 percent. Saranyou/Shutterstock

Coffee has been linked to a whole host of positive medical effects, with research hinting at its anti-cancer and aphrodisiac properties. Adding to that body of work is a new study that suggests drinking two cups of the black stuff each day could reduce the risk of alcohol-related cirrhosis by as much as 43 percent.

Cirrhosis is a scarring of the liver that can lead to liver failure in extreme cases. Between 1980 and 2010, the number of deaths caused by the condition worldwide rose from around 675,000 to over a million.

The disease can be brought on by a number of factors, including chronic alcohol misuse and obesity, both of which can stimulate the overproduction of fibrous connective tissue such as collagen in the liver, generating scar tissue in place of healthy tissue. Traditionally, alcohol abuse has been among the leading causes of cirrhosis, although obesity is expected to overtake this as the number one driver of the condition in the near future.

Though previous studies have shown coffee-derived caffeine to protect against abnormal liver function and fibrosis, until now no comprehensive analysis of this data had been conducted. To address this, a team of researchers compiled data from nine pre-existing studies into the effects of coffee drinking on the risk of cirrhosis, publishing their findings in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

Of the more than 430,000 participants in these nine studies, 1,990 cases of cirrhosis were reported, although this frequency was found to be strongly negatively correlated with levels of coffee consumption.

For instance, when filtering their data to examine cirrhosis cases caused by alcohol, the researchers found that drinking a single cup of coffee each day led to a 22 percent decrease in the risk of developing the condition. Two cups, meanwhile, corresponded to a 43 percent drop in risk, while three cups decreased this chance by 57 percent and four cups by 65 percent.

Exactly how coffee produces these effects is a question for future research to try and answer, although the study authors propose that it may have something to do with the drink’s antioxidant or anti-inflammatory properties, both of which have previously been shown to protect against liver fibrosis.

In spite of this surprising and highly encouraging data, the researchers admit that their study has several limitations, such as the fact that it only accounts for alcohol-related cirrhosis, and therefore doesn’t evaluate coffee’s impact on other causes of cirrhosis, such as obesity, diabetes or hepatitis infection. It is also unclear whether all types of coffee – such as ground, instant, boiled and filtered coffee – produce the same effects, which is why it is unwise to base one's lifestyle choices around this data. 

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