Could drinking a few cups of coffee every day almost cut in half the chance that you will die from liver disease? A new study published on June 22 in BMC Public Health found that people who regularly drank coffee, whether it was caffeinated or not, were less likely to get chronic liver disease and chronic fatty liver disease and had a lower risk of dying from liver disease than people who didn’t drink coffee.
This is good news for most of us: The National Coffee Association says that 62 percent of Americans drink coffee every day, and the average person drinks a little more than three cups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that 4.5 million American adults have a long-term liver disease.
Oliver Kennedy, PhD, a professor at the University of Southampton in England and the study’s lead author, says that the lower risk was seen with all kinds of coffee, including instant, ground, and decaf. He says that because of these benefits, coffee might be a simple way to prevent chronic liver disease.
Consuming More Coffee (Up to 4 Cups) Provided the Greatest Benefit
Researchers used information from the UK Biobank, a non-profit health database, to keep track of 494,585 people who had told them how much coffee they drank at first. The average age of the people in the study was 58, 54.5 percent were women, and 94 percent were white.
People were watched for a median of 10.7 years to see if they got chronic liver disease or other liver conditions related to it.
About 78 percent (384,818) of the people in the group drank coffee and drank an average of two cups a day. About 22 percent (109,767) of the people did not drink any coffee. Of the people who drank coffee, 55% drank instant coffee, 23% drank ground coffee (including espresso), and 19% drank decaf.
During the time of the study, 3,600 people got chronic liver disease, and 301 of them died. There were 5,439 cases of chronic liver disease or steatosis, also called fatty liver disease, which is when fat builds up in the liver, and 184 cases of hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer.
Coffee drinkers had a 21% lower risk of chronic liver disease, a 20% lower risk of chronic or fatty liver disease, and a 49% lower risk of dying from chronic liver disease, compared to people who didn’t drink coffee.
Compared to not drinking coffee, people who drank any kind of coffee had a lower chance of getting chronic liver disease and dying from it. The greatest benefit was seen in people who drank three to four cups of ground coffee per day.
Findings back up what other studies have said about coffee and liver health.
The head of the hepatology section at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Omar Massoud, MD, PhD, says that this study backs up what other studies have found about coffee and liver health. Dr. Massoud didn’t work on the new study.
An earlier study published in Gastroenterology found that people who drank two to three cups of coffee per day had a 38% lower risk of dying from liver cancer and a 46% lower risk of dying from chronic liver disease compared to people who didn’t drink coffee. Those numbers went up to 41% and 71%, respectively, for people who drank four or more cups of coffee per day.
Another study on coffee and liver disease, which was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, also found that coffee drinkers had a lower risk of liver disease. Researchers came to the conclusion that coffee protected against cirrhosis, especially alcoholic cirrhosis.
In that study, researchers found that people who drank coffee were less likely to have high levels of aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT). MedlinePlus says that these enzymes get into the bloodstream when the liver is damaged. They are linked to liver damage and disease.
The authors admit that the results were not changed to account for waist circumference, which may be linked to metabolic syndrome even when BMI is not taken into account.
What could be the reason why coffee seems to protect the liver?
Dr. Kennedy says that the protective effect of coffee may be caused by a number of different chemical compounds found in coffee.
Cafestol and kahweol are two of these kinds of chemicals. Together, they are called diterpenes. There are a lot of these compounds that dissolve in fat in French press coffee and espresso.
A type of polyphenol called chlorogenic acid (CGA) that comes from plants and is found in coffee is thought to have antioxidant properties. ScienceDirect says that these acids may help control how much glucose is in the liver and small intestine.
All About Being Sensitive to Caffeine
More research needs to be done to confirm what has been found about coffee and liver health.
Kennedy says it’s important to remember that the study didn’t show that coffee lowered the risk of liver disease. “There may be other things about coffee drinkers that explain why they are less likely to get liver disease, even though we took the main known risk factors into account. “In an ideal world, we’d need a randomized controlled trial to be able to give specific advice,” he says.
Massoud says that the gold standard would be a long-term study in which some people are randomly assigned to drink coffee or not drink coffee and are then watched and evaluated. “This would be hard to do because neither the participants nor the researchers would know who was drinking coffee and who wasn’t,” he says.
Massoud says that it might be easier to test a capsule with the compounds found in coffee against a placebo.
Should people drink more coffee to help their liver?
Massoud says, “Even though this study doesn’t prove cause and effect, other studies have shown that the same thing is true.” Coffee seems to protect against liver disease, and people who drink coffee regularly are less likely to have liver disease.
Since coffee is safe, a lot of people drink it, and it has other benefits, Massoud says it’s probably good for your health to drink more, unless you already drink three or four cups a day. Just remember that coffee is not medicine, and if you are sensitive to caffeine (even decaf can have trace amounts), you may want to skip the coffee or at least talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet, especially if you have a history of liver problems.
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