Coffee may prevent chronic liver disease

Drinking coffee – whichever way you take it – may reduce the risk of liver disease, according to a new study published in the journal BMC Public Health.

A team of researchers, from the universities of Southampton and Edinburgh in the UK, analysed UK Biobank data on 495,585 participants, followed over roughly 11 years, to monitor the development of chronic liver disease and its relationship to coffee consumption.

Coffee drinkers had a 21% reduced risk of chronic liver disease and a 49% reduced risk of death from liver disease, according to the study. The maximum benefit was found among those who drank ground coffee, which contains high levels of the ingredients kahweol and cafestol – which have been shown to be beneficial against liver disease in animal trials.

But even instant coffee, which has low levels of these two key ingredients, had a marked benefit in reducing risk of liver disease, suggesting other ingredients or combinations are also beneficial.

The find is important because chronic liver disease is a growing cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide.

“Coffee is widely accessible and the benefits we see from our study may mean it could offer a potential preventative treatment for chronic liver disease,” says lead author Oliver Kennedy, of the University of Southampton. “This would be especially valuable in countries with lower income and worse access to healthcare and where the burden of chronic liver disease is highest.”

Coffee has often had a bad rap, with early studies suggesting negative health impacts and a bevy of health gurus and online blogs espousing the benefits of abandoning the drink. But in recent years, a number of studies have demonstrated the potential benefits of coffee against a range of illnesses, including Parkinson’s diseasetype 2 diabetes, and heart failure.

The authors conducted their research based on the “biological plausibility” of coffee as a preventive factor in liver disease. Caffeine is a non-selective antagonist of the A2aA receptor. When activated, the A2aA receptor stimulates collagen production by hepatic stellate cells, which mitigate against liver fibrosis. Other active ingredients including kahweol, cafestol and chlorogenic acid have also been shown to protect against fibrosis in animal studies.

The authors note that coffee consumption was only reported at initial enrolment into the study, so long-term changes in consumption are not accounted for. The participants in the study were also predominantly white and from higher socio-economic backgrounds, skewing the results towards particular physiologies and lifestyle factors, highlighting the need for further research.

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