Coffee intake may lower the risk of suffering from cirrhosis, researchers have recently determined.
The findings were presented on January 25 in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, following research led by Dr. Oliver Kennedy, affiliated with Southampton University, from the United Kingdom.
Kennedy and his colleagues analyzed 9 prior peer-reviewed studies which had collected data pertaining to over 430,000 individuals. Out of these participants, 1,990 were affected by cirrhosis, a condition triggered by severe, prolonged damage to the liver.
Usually, cirrhosis appears due to excessive alcohol intake, fatty liver disease (linked to obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and type 2 diabetes), chronic infections with the hepatitis C or hepatitis B virus, or autoimmune diseases.
Once cirrhosis sets in, it manifests itself through jaundice (skin yellowing), spider angioma (swollen blood vessels resembling a spider’s web), itchy skin, fatigue, swollen legs, ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdomen), appetite loss, as well as bruising and bleeding easily.
Complications normally consist in hepatic encephalopathy (liver failure marked by disorientation, reversed sleep cycles, forgetfulness, somnolence and coma), peritonitis (bacterial infection affecting the fluid in the abdominal cavity), liver cancer, and gastric or esophageal varices.
Across the world, cirrhosis is responsible for over a million deaths on a yearly basis, so researchers wanted to see if they might find a way of preventing this disease from appearing in the first place.
They compared the incidence of this condition against each participant’s coffee intake, in order to determine if those who consumed this hot beverage had a lowered susceptibility to this liver disease.
It was discovered that subjects who had consumed one cup of coffee per day had a 22% decreased likelihood of developing cirrhosis than their counterparts who didn’t favor this type of drink.
Individuals who drank 2 daily cups of coffee instead had a 43% more diminished risk of suffering from this condition.
For those who drank 3 cups of coffee per day benefits were even more obvious, the likelihood of having cirrhosis dropping by 57%. In addition, for even more avid coffee drinks, who indulged in 4 daily servings, the odds of having this liver disease were slashed by approximately 65%.
Overall, eight of the nine studies included in the analysis exhibited this downward trend related to cirrhosis prevalence among coffee drinkers.
Even though only a correlation has been identified in this meta-analysis, and not an actual causal relationship, British researchers still hoped to find a possible explanation for this association, especially since coffee is so easily accessible, low priced, and generally safe and easy to tolerate.
One of the studies they reviewed appeared to show that filtered coffee is much more frequently connected with a reduced risk for cirrhosis in contrast with boiled coffee, but it’s unclear if a particular type of brewing does indeed make coffee intake more effective, or if this hot beverage really is beneficial for the liver’s health.
As lead study author Oliver Kennedy explained, coffee has a very complex chemical composition, consisting in more than a thousand different elements, verging from powerful antioxidants such as chlorogenic acids (CGAs), to carcinogens such as 4-methylimidazole.
So far, it’s still unclear which of the compounds may be responsible for this popular drink’s beneficial impact on the liver function, and it hasn’t been proven if positive effects persist when controlling for other liver disease triggers such as type 2 diabetes or obesity.
Like study authors point out, it may be that gaining more insight into the outcomes of coffee intake will allow us to prevent an incurable and often lethal disease like cirrhosis much more successfully.
On the other hand, Samantha Heller, certified dietitian and nutritionist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, has emphasized that indulging in heavy amounts of coffee still won’t counter consistent liver damage caused by lack of physical exercise, obesity, binge drinking and unhealthy eating habits.
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