Drinking more coffee may help prevent alcohol-related cirrhosis

Posted at 7:32 PM, Feb 21, 2016

Make that black coffee order a double.

Upping your coffee intake may help reduce your chances of developing alcohol-related cirrhosis, according to a review done by the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics of multiple existing studies.

Drinking just two more cups of coffee every day may lower the risk of developing the liver condition by 44%, according to researchers who analyzed nine studies that examined the relationship between coffee consumption and the risk of cirrhosis.

More than 430,000 participants were a part of the nine studies. The duration of these studies varied, but the longest one lasted about 20 years. In eight of the nine studies examined, researchers found increasing coffee consumption by two cups per day was “associated with a statistically significant reduction in the risk of cirrhosis.” The review, published January 25, is the first meta-analysis to show the potential protective properties of coffee.

Dr. Oliver Kennedy, who conducted the research as part of a team at Southampton University in the United Kingdom, told CNN the team combined the data of these existing studies to calculate a more precise relationship between coffee and the risk of cirrhosis.

They found that the risk of cirrhosis was lower at higher levels of coffee consumption. “For example, compared to no coffee, 1 cup per day was associated with a 22% lower risk of cirrhosis and 4 cups per day was associated with a 65% lower risk. However, there may be an upper limit beyond which there is no further benefit,” Kennedy said.

But while coffee may reduce the risk of cirrhosis, it will not fully counteract the harmful effects of excess alcohol consumption, Kennedy added.

Cirrhosis is a condition that deteriorates the liver, replacing healthy tissue with scar tissue that blocks blood flow. Common causes for the liver disorder are chronic hepatitis infections, excessive alcohol consumption, immune diseases, obesity and diabetes. And the damaging condition can be fatal, according to the National Institution of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

However, Dr. Hillel Tobias, a liver specialist and chairman of the American Liver Foundation’s National Medical Advisory Committee, says the possible preventative effects of coffee are not new. A 2015 reported cited a potential link between coffee’s health benefits and cirrhosis preventions.

“The problem is that most professionals in the liver community find this hard to accept,” Tobias told CNN. “The physiological and biochemical basis has not been established and some experimental evidence is needed. Right now, many of these studies are based on historical information provided by patients.”

Tobias said the possibility of patient subjectivity and statistical errors makes him leery of such studies claiming to have a simple fix for cirrhosis.

It should also be noted that some of the studies that were reviewed did not account for other risk factors for cirrhosis like obesity and diabetes, Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics says in its report.

The findings mean more research is needed, Kennedy said. “We now need to conduct proper clinical trials, similar to those necessary for authorization of a new pharmaceutical product, so that doctors and health policy makers can make specific recommendations, he said.

It’s important to also keep in mind that the amount of alcohol-related liver damage varies from person to person, Tobias explained. For example, women can’t metabolize alcohol as quickly as men. Maintaining healthy eating and drinking habits is a good way to prevent some cases of cirrhosis, according to Tobias.

In the United States, alcoholism is the second-most common cause of cirrhosis. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to fat accumulation and inflammation of the liver, according to NIDDK.

It’s recommended that moderate drinking for men is two drinks per day and one drink per day for women, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.