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Drinking coffee may cut risk of chronic liver disease, study suggests

Updated: Aug 15, 2021

From espresso to instant, coffee is part of the daily routine for millions. Now research suggests the brew could be linked to a lower chance of developing or dying from chronic liver disease. Chronic liver disease is a major health problem around the world. According to the British Liver Trust, liver disease is the third leading cause of premature death in the UK, with deaths having risen 400% since 1970.

The new study is the latest to suggest drinking coffee could bring benefits, with previous work suggesting it may help stave off liver cancer, and reduce the risk of alcohol-related liver disease. “It confirms in a large UK cohort that coffee drinking is protective against severe liver disease,” said Prof Paul Roderick, a co-author of the study from the University of Southampton. Writing in the journal BMC Public Health, Roderick and colleagues report how they analysed data from 494,585 participants in the UK Biobank – a project designed to help unpick the genetic and environmental factors associated with particular conditions. All participants were aged 40 to 69 when they signed up to the project, with 384,818 saying they were coffee drinkers at the outset compared with 109,767 who did not consume the beverage. The team looked at the liver health of the participants over a median period of almost 11 years, finding 3,600 cases of chronic liver disease, with 301 deaths, and 1,839 cases of simple fatty liver disease. The analysis revealed that after taking into account factors such as body mass index, alcohol consumption, and smoking status, those who drank any amount of coffee, and of any sort, had a 20% lower risk of developing chronic liver disease or fatty liver disease (taken together) than those who did not consume the brew.

The coffee drinkers also had a 49% lower risk of dying from chronic liver disease. The team said the magnitude of the effect increased with the amount of coffee consumed, up to about three to four cups a day, “beyond which further increases in consumption provided no additional benefit”. A reduction in risk was also found when instant, decaffeinated and ground coffee were considered separately – although the latter linked to the largest effect. However, the study has limitations, including that it cannot prove that coffee itself reduces the risk of chronic liver disease, while participants were only quizzed about their coffee drinking habits at one point in time. “It does, however, raise the issue that it might be an effective intervention to prevent severe liver disease, say in those at high risk,” said Roderick, noting there are numerous ingredients that may exert beneficial effects on liver disease and that these vary between types of coffee.

Vanessa Hebditch, of the British Liver Trust, said the research added to a growing body of evidence that coffee was good for liver health. ““However, it’s important that people improve their liver health not just by drinking coffee,” she said, “but by also cutting down on alcohol and keeping to a healthy weight by exercising and eating well.”

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