Worried About Alcohol Scarring Your Liver? Try a Double-Double (On the Double)

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Newman_coffee_220216Coffee may not help with a hangover but it can apparently reduce some other complications of alcohol consumption, according to findings published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. The study was a meta-analysis that examined over 430,000 participants across nine different studies; researchers wanted to observe whether or not upping your coffee intake by two cups per day can cut your risk of alcohol-related cirrhosis by almost half.

Since cirrhosis has no known cure and can be fatal in severe or untreated cases—it claims a little over 35,000 people in the U.S. every year—the idea that something as ubiquitous as coffee can help reduce the risk of developing the condition is highly tantalizing. In eight of the nine studies covered by the meta-analysis, a strong link was found between drinking coffee and a reduced risk of cirrhosis:

  • One cup per day cut the risk by 22%
  • Two cups resulted in a 43% drop
  • Three cups produced a 57% decrease
  • Four cups saw the maximum deduction at 65%

Filtered coffee seemed to produce more benefits than boiled coffee, but it is unclear why. The scope of the study was not enough to determine if certain types of coffee beans had a greater or lesser impact on cirrhosis risk. These findings were in line with previous research that found a protective benefit from coffee against cirrhosis. Interestingly, in this past research, tea was not found to have a similar effect, which means that the benefit was coming from one of coffee’s non-caffeine chemicals. Additionally, the risk reduction only applied to alcohol-related cirrhosis. Although this is just one type of cirrhosis, it does account for roughly half of all cases.

Cirrhosis of the liver is a progressive condition where healthy liver tissue becomes increasing scarred. As the scar tissue spreads, it starts to interfere with the organ’s normal function. The flow of nutrients, blood, and hormones are slowed along with the production of proteins and other vital substances produced by the liver. Long-term alcohol abuse is one of the known causes of the ailment.

The study does have some limitations that will need to be addressed in further research or clinical trials. There are, for instance, other factors that can both raise and reduce the risk of cirrhosis—obesity or diet, for instance—which would need to be controlled for in order to get an accurate assessment of coffee’s impact and to narrow down what in the drink is actually providing the risk decrease, as well as why it only seems to apply to alcohol-related cirrhosis.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Kennedy, O. J., et al., “Systematic Review with Meta-analysis: Coffee Consumption and the Risk of Cirrhosis,” Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 43, no. 5; 2016: 562-74, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/apt.13523/full; last accessed February 22, 2016.