Could coffee protect your liver against alcohol?
By NewScientist.com staff and AFP Drinking coffee may shield the liver from the worst ravages of alcohol, a study of more than 125,000 people suggests. The risk of developing alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver dropped with each cup of coffee they drank per day. “Consuming coffee seems to have some protective benefits against alcoholic cirrhosis, and the more coffee a person consumes the less risk they seem to have of being hospitalised or dying of alcoholic cirrhosis,” says Arthur Klatsky at Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Programme in Oakland, California, US, who led the study. His team identified people who had enrolled on a private health care plan in northern California between 1978 and 1985. On enrolment, the subjects had also completed health questionnaires on the amount of alcohol, tea and coffee they drank over the course of a year. Some had also had their blood tested for levels of certain liver enzymes which are released into the bloodstream when the liver is diseased or damaged. The researchers identified how many of these people had gone on to develop cirrhosis – a total of 330 people, including 199 with alcoholic cirrhosis. People drinking one cup of coffee per day were, on average, 20% less likely to develop alcoholic cirrhosis. For people drinking two or three cups the reduction was 40%, and for those drinking four or more cups of coffee a day the reduction in risk was 80%. Among those who had their blood drawn, liver enzyme levels were higher in individuals who drank more alcohol, indicating liver disease or damage. However, those who drank both alcohol and coffee had lower levels than those who drank alcohol but did not drink coffee. “This is not a recommendation to drink coffee, nor is it a recommendation that the way to deal with heavy alcohol consumption is to drink more coffee,” warns Klatsky, who adds that the observational nature of the data may limit its interpretation. Exactly how coffee could protect the liver is also unknown. Klatsky speculates that caffeine could have a protective effect, although his study found no link between tea drinking and a decreased risk of cirrhosis. “The value of this study is that it may offer us some clues as to the biochemical processes taking place inside liver cells that could help in finding new ways to protect the liver against injury,” he says. Journal reference: Archives of Internal Medicine (vol 166,