Does Coffee Help Your Liver?

According to the European Patients Association, liver disease is one of the most important health issues in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and other European countries.

  • the 3rd main cause of premature death and the rate of death from the disease for those under the age of 65 years has increased by almost 500% since 1970.
  • the only major cause of death still increasing year-on-year.
  • 5th ‘biggest killer’ after heart, cancer, stroke and respiratory disease and one in five of us may be affected.

The liver is the body’s largest internal organ and is essential to life. It performs over 500 different functions for the body, including processing digested food from the intestine, combating infections in the body, manufacturing, breaking down and regulating numerous hormones, and making enzymes and proteins which are responsible for most chemical reactions in the body.

The liver’s complexity makes it susceptible to many different diseases, including:

  • Hepatitis: the most common form of the liver disease to cause inflammation of the liver. It can occur in both viral (Hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E) and non-viral forms (e.g. alcohol-related and autoimmune hepatitis) and can also have autoimmune or genetic causes and may result in an acute or chronic condition;
  • Cirrhosis: the excessive development of scar tissue within the liver which can lead to complete liver failure. This is the result of long-term, continuous damage to the organ;
  • Fatty liver disease, which includes a range of conditions where there is a build-up of fat in the liver cells. It is caused by certain chemical compounds (particularly alcohol) and by nutritional and endocrine disorders, such as obesity and diabetes;
  • Liver cancer may occur as both primary (cancer that starts in the liver) and secondary/metastatic (cancer that first develops elsewhere in the body and then spreads to the liver);
  • Autoimmune conditions, such as Autoimmune Hepatitis (AIH), Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) and Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC)
  • Genetic diseases, such as Haemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease, and Gilbert’s syndrome

According to the European Association for the Study of the Liver’s report, there is a global liver disease problem.

  • Liver disease is estimated to affect 6 percent of the EU’s population, or approximately 29 million people, and is reported to be the EU’s 5th biggest killer;
  • Liver cancer is the 5th most common cause of cancer-related deaths globally and the 14th most prevalent in Europe2. It accounts for 5 percent, or 695,000 deaths worldwide (47,000 deaths in Europe)
  • Liver cancer is the leading cause of death amongst patients with liver cirrhosis
  • It is estimated that over 10 million people in Europe are affected by Hepatitis1 with 600,000 dying of the acute or chronic consequences of Hepatitis B every year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are about 4 million carriers of Hepatitis C in Europe alone.

The benefits of coffee consumption

Pieces of evidence from medical research suggest that there is no direct association between moderate coffee consumption and the risk of developing a range of liver diseases, including cancer, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. In fact, studies in patients with a variety of liver diseases have all found moderate coffee drinking has a positive effect on limiting the rate at which disease progresses. How?

  1. Drinking moderate amounts of coffee may help to reduce the risk of liver cancer, and the risk of developing liver cancer falls as coffee consumption rises.
  2. Moderate coffee consumption may also be related to a slower progression of chronic liver disease. Patients who consumed a higher quantity of coffee have been found to display a milder course of fibrosis, especially in those with alcohol-related liver disease.
  3. The association between moderate coffee consumption and a lower rate of fibrosis has also been seen in patients with hepatic fibrosis, cirrhosis, non-alcohol related liver disease and Hepatitis C.
  4. Patients with Hepatitis C who have a higher consumption of coffee have a lower rate of disease progression than those who drink less coffee.
  5. Caffeine consumption has been related to slower development of cirrhosis in patients scheduled for liver biopsy.
  6. Several different coffee components besides caffeine are being investigated for their beneficial interaction with the liver. Kahweol and cafestol, naturally-occurring compounds in coffee, have revealed certain anti-carcinogenic properties, while chlorogenic and caffeine acids indicate anti-viral characteristics.
  7. One of the breakdown products of caffeine, paraxanthine, has been shown to slow down the growth of the type of tissue seen in liver fibrosis, alcohol-related cirrhosis, and liver cancer.
  8. It is not yet fully clear whether, and to what extent, caffeine may be responsible for the reduction in risk of developing these diseases, but it is thought to play a positive role.
  9. Research shows coffee consumption is not associated with gastrointestinal dysfunction.

In another interesting report, the British Liver Trust compiled commonly asked questions and the corresponding responses on the relation between coffee consumption and liver health.

Q: Is coffee good for the liver?

A: Research suggests that regular, moderate coffee consumption can lower people’s risk of developing a range of liver diseases – including cancer, fibrosis (scar tissue that builds up within the liver) and cirrhosis (the result of a long-term build-up of scar tissue within the liver).

Q: How many cups of coffee do I need to drink to see a benefit?

A: It is too early to make specific recommendations concerning the levels of coffee intake that may be beneficial for liver function. Research suggests that regular, moderate coffee consumption may be beneficial. However, certain patients with specific conditions may need to limit their caffeine consumption. For example, pregnant women are advised to limit their caffeine intake to 200-300mg per day – the equivalent amount found in 2-3 regular cups of coffee.

Q: Are the benefits of coffee down to caffeine?

A: While research has suggested that caffeine may slow down the progression of liver fibrosis, alcohol-related cirrhosis and liver cancer, the extent to which caffeine is implicated in the reduced risk of developing these diseases remains unclear. Research also suggests that other coffee constituents, including cafestol and kahweol (naturally occurring compounds found in the oily part of coffee), and antioxidants may have a beneficial effect on liver function.

Q: Is decaffeinated coffee as good as regular coffee?

A: Research suggests that caffeine might play a role in the relationship between coffee drinking and lower risk of liver disease; however, currently there are no published studies specifically investigating the effects of decaffeinated coffee on liver function.

Q: If I’m a coffee drinker, can I drink more alcohol without increasing my risk of liver disease?

A: No. All medical advice makes clear that excessive alcohol consumption is detrimental to health. Adults who choose to consume alcohol should be aware of the recommended advice for safe consumption. While scientific research suggests that coffee drinking may have a beneficial effect on liver function, the risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption are not counterbalanced by coffee consumption.

Q: I’ve heard that the effects of alcohol on the liver can be different for women than for men. Is the same true for coffee?

A: Generally, the effect of coffee drinking does not differ between the sexes; however, some groups, such as pregnant women, smokers, or women taking hormone replacement therapy do metabolize caffeine at a different rate to those in the general population. Pregnant women are advised to limit their caffeine intake to 200-300mg per day – the equivalent amount found in 2-3 regular cups of coffee.

Q: Do all types of coffee have the same effect?

A: Studies investigating the relationship between coffee and liver function have demonstrated beneficial effects in various types of coffee preparation, including filtered, instant and espresso coffee.

Q: Is it safe for individuals with the liver disease to drink coffee?

A: Yes, there is no evidence to suggest that moderate coffee drinking poses any dangers for individuals with liver disease. In fact, some studies suggest coffee may slow down the progression of liver disease in some patients.

Q: Does coffee have any benefits for individuals with liver disease?

A: Research has shown that individuals with liver disease who regularly drink moderate amounts of coffee tend to display a milder progression of the disease.

Given this growing evidence, it can be said that moderate coffee consumption, that is fresh, black, brewed coffee, can make your liver healthy. I am sure coffee lovers out there are rejoicing!

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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