By Nancy Maleki
A few cups of coffee every day may provide more than a boost to get through the day. That hot brew may also save lives, at least among a subset of people with cirrhosis of the liver, new research suggests.
Researchers have found that people with cirrhosis of the liver (scarring of the liver that reduces liver function) caused by non-viral hepatitis were less likely to die if they drank at least one cup of coffee every day.
The study also suggested that the more coffee these patients drank, the better their chances of staying alive.
This study was led by Woon-Puay Koh, PhD, of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore.
Dr. Koh and team were interested in conducting this research because some studies have suggested coffee may be beneficial in people with cirrhosis. In previous studies, researchers thought it was the caffeine that was responsible for the benefit. Dr. Koh's team thought other components might be responsible, and their study suggests that may be the case. In their study, tea and caffeinated soft drinks did not confer the same benefits as coffee.
Other research has suggested that only certain cirrhosis patients benefit from drinking coffee. Dr. Koh's team found this was also the case, as only patients with cirrhosis caused by non-viral hepatitis lived longer if they drank coffee.
Cirrhosis is a condition caused by infections, illness or heavy alcohol consumption. As time goes on, the liver function decreases.
Dr. Koh and colleagues conducted this prospective study of 63,275 Chinese people, aged 45 to 74 years, who were recruited from 1993 to 1998 as part of the Singapore Chinese Health Study.
At the start for the study, subjects were interviewed in person about their health, lifestyles, what they liked to eat and
drink and how much of these things they consumed on a regular basis.
These participants were followed for an average of 15 years.
The researchers used the death registry to see how many of those recruited had died.
In that time, the researchers learned that 114 people died from cirrhosis of the liver — 33 of these died from viral hepatitis, two from hepatitis C and 14 from alcohol-related cirrhosis. The researchers found that only the people with cirrhosis caused by non-viral hepatitis who drank coffee tended to live longer. Non-viral hepatitis is usually caused by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
People with cirrhosis of the liver caused by non-viral hepatitis who reported drinking one cup of coffee a day were 37 percent less likely to die than those who did not drink coffee. Furthermore, the patients in this group who drank two or more cups daily had a 66 percent reduction in risk of dying compared to non-coffee drinkers.
The researchers also believe that coffee lowers the level of enzymes in the blood that cause cell breakdown and inflammation in the liver. They think coffee reduces oxidative stress — stress on the body that is caused by the cumulative damage done by free radicals over time.
The researchers noted there were some limitations to their study. They only used a baseline intake of coffee and other
beverages, and the study participants may have have changed their habits over the years. Also, the deaths may have been underreported.
“In conclusion, our study demonstrates the protective effect of coffee on non-viral hepatitis related cirrhosis mortality, and concurs with experimental evidence that the effect could be mediated via antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanisms," the researchers wrote. “Since coffee is widely consumed globally, it has significant clinical and public-health implications and provides further impetus to evaluate coffee as a potential therapeutic agent in patients with chronic liver diseases in randomized interventional trials."
The study appears in the journal Hepatology.
No conflicts of interest were reported.