Those extra cups of coffee you down to keep you awake after a nasty hangover may also help lower the risk of liver damage caused by too much booze, a new study suggests.
British researchers out of the University of Southampton say that drinking two additional cups of coffee – or four in total – could reduce the risk of cirrhosis by 65 per cent. It may even cut in half the risk of dying from cirrhosis.
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“Cirrhosis is potentially fatal and there is no cure as such,” lead author, Dr. Oliver Kennedy, said in a university statement.
“Therefore, it is significant that the risk of developing cirrhosis may be reduced by consumption of coffee, a cheap, ubiquitous and well-tolerated beverage,” Kennedy told British reporters.
Cirrhosis is a scarred liver. It’s typically triggered by long-term injury from drinking too much alcohol, or from viruses like hepatitis C.
Its deadliness comes from an increased risk of liver failure and liver cancer, according to Dr. Eric Yoshida, a University of British Columbia professor and chairman of the medical advisory committee with the Canadian Liver Foundation.
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Yoshida says the link between coffee and lessening the risk of cirrhosis has been widely documented. He and his colleagues conducted a similar review in 2007 that yielded similar results.
“For some reason, coffee seems to diminish risk of getting cirrhosis or getting liver cancer. All the studies say the same thing but they don’t know what the mechanism is,” he told Global News.
For their review, Kennedy and his team conducted a meta-analysis poring over nine long-term studies that pulled in the health outcomes of half a million men and women. They say it’s the first review that considers the potential protective properties of coffee.
In eight of the studies, the team learned that drinking two extra cups of coffee per day was “associated with a statistically significant reduction in the risk of cirrhosis.”
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They say that the more coffee people drank, the more their risk of cirrhosis came down. One cup was tied to a 22 per cent lower risk, while four cups had a 65 per cent lower risk, for example. At some point, consumption levels and their health benefits tap out, though.
But don’t turn to more coffee after you’ve had too much to drink, Yoshida warned. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
“This doesn’t protect you from the effects of alcohol like a magic potion but it may over the long-term provide some benefit. It may decrease risk of liver disease, cirrhosis or liver cancer and improve your liver biochemistry,” Yoshida explained.
The effects don’t seem to work in tea or cola drinks with caffeine, either.
“Coffee is a very complex brew. It’s a mix of caffeine and organic molecules – whether it’s one particular component or if it’s a combination, something seems to have a beneficial effect on the liver,” he said.
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For now, it’s worth further research.
“This could be an important finding for patients at risk of cirrhosis to help to improve their health outcomes. However, we now need robust clinical trials to investigate the wider benefits and harms of coffee so that doctors can make specific recommendations to patients,” Kennedy said.
Yoshida doesn’t tell his liver disease patients to take up coffee drinking but if they already do, he tells them it’s OK to stick to their consumption habits.
Kennedy’s full findings were published this month in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Read the study here.