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All Types of Coffee Protect Against Liver Disease, Study Shows

Coffee

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Key Takeaways:

  • Coffee contains over 1,000 natural chemicals, many of which are beneficial to human health.
  • Coffee has been linked with a lower risk of developing chronic liver disease, but it was unclear if the effects varied based on whether one drinks instant, ground, or decaf coffee.
  • A new study finds that all types of coffee—ground, instant, and decaf—are protective against liver disease.

Coffee lovers rejoice! A new study published in BMC Public Health investigated which types of coffee—instant, ground, or decaf—may help lower the risk of chronic liver disease (CLD). It's good news for all types of coffee: the study showed that all might be protective.

CLD is a process of persistent inflammation, causing destruction and regeneration of liver tissues, which leads to the development of scar tissue (fibrosis) and cirrhosis. In some cases, cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer.

The CDC estimates that about 4.5 million Americans have CLD. Types of CLD include alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and chronic viral hepatitis. CLD may also arise from genetic causes or autoimmune causes.

Past observational and laboratory studies have shown that coffee may protect against developing CLD, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. In a new study, researchers wanted to specifically see whether ground, instant, or decaf coffee was more effective at protecting liver health.

What Was Studied?

The researchers used data from the UK Biobank, a prospective longitudinal study dataset of over 500,000 UK residents. UK Biobank participants answered questions about medical history and lifestyle, underwent physical examination, and gave urine and blood samples.

Coffee consumption data was collected through a touchscreen questionnaire. Participants were asked how many cups of coffee they drank each day, and what type of coffee they usually drank from these choices:

  • Decaffeinated
  • Instant
  • Ground (including espresso)
  • Other

After some exclusions (people who withdrew consent or had CLD at baseline), there were 494,585 participants included in this study. They were followed for a median of 10.7 years.

What Did The Study Find?

Overall, the study found that coffee drinkers (all types of coffee combined) had lower risks than non-coffee drinkers of CLD and death from CLD. During the follow-up, there were 9,039 cases of CLD or steatosis (fatty liver), 184 cases of liver cancer, and 301 deaths from CLD. 

Median coffee consumption was 2 cups a day. Among participants who drank coffee:

  • 19% drank decaffeinated coffee
  • 55% drank instant coffee
  • 23% drank ground (including espresso) coffee

Jonathan Fallowfield, PhD

Overall coffee drinkers were 21% less likely to develop chronic liver disease, 20% less likely to develop chronic or fatty liver disease, and 49% less likely to die from chronic liver disease than non-coffee drinkers.

— Jonathan Fallowfield, PhD

“We showed that consumption of ALL coffee types (including decaffeinated, instant and ground coffee), was associated with reduced risk of liver disease outcomes,” says Professor Jonathan Fallowfield, Chair of Translational Liver Research & Principal Investigator at the University of Edinburgh Centre for Inflammation Research in Scotland, and one of this study’s authors.

“Overall coffee drinkers were 21% less likely to develop chronic liver disease, 20% less likely to develop chronic or fatty liver disease, and 49% less likely to die from chronic liver disease than non-coffee drinkers,” says Fallowfield.

The researchers note that the largest risk reduction for various health outcomes seemed to peak at 3-4 cups of coffee per day. 

“What our current study shows is that decaffeinated coffee also appears to confer protective effects,” says Fallowfield.

That’s good news if you are sensitive to the stimulating effects of caffeinated coffee—you can likely drink decaf and get similar results.

Why Is Coffee Beneficial?

“Coffee contains over 1,000 chemicals including the alkaloids caffeine and trigonelline, phenolic acids such as chlorogenic acids and the oily diterpenes cafestol and kahweol,” says Fallowfield.

Some of these antioxidants and chemicals are thought to be beneficial to human health, including caffeine, chlorogenic acid, kahweol, and cafestol.

Of course, decaffeinated coffee lacks caffeine, and filtered and instant coffee have only minimal amounts of kahweol and cafestol, yet all seem to be effective at reducing CLD risk.

“Many of the substances in coffee have been shown in the laboratory to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, or even anti-cancer properties,” says Fallowfield. “There probably isn't one magic ingredient!”

Foods To Support Liver Health

In addition to coffee, what other foods and beverages support a healthy liver?

Diana Mager, PhD, MSc, RD, professor of clinical nutrition in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science at the University of Alberta provided some answers.

“Diets that are high in antioxidants, vitamin E and D, and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be associated with reductions in inflammation and oxidative stress, particularly in adults with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” says Mager. 

As for overall dietary patterns, Mager explains that there is some controversy about this point, but most data suggest that a Mediterranean-style dietary pattern is important to support healthy liver function. 

Diana Mager PhD, MSc, RD

Diets that are high in antioxidants, vitamin E and D, and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to be associated with reductions in inflammation and oxidative stress, particularly in adults with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

— Diana Mager PhD, MSc, RD

Examples of foods to choose include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and fatty fish. 

It’s also important to choose fewer foods that are high in sugars and saturated fats, such as baked goods, fast food and other ultra-processed options.

Foods high in high fructose corn syrup (sugar sweetened beverages, sugar-sweetened snack foods) and saturated fat (fast foods) have been associated with an increased risk for inflammation, oxidative stress and steatosis in adults with a variety of liver diseases,” says Mager. “The recommendation is to limit or avoid these foods in the diet.”

Mager explains that alcohol (when consumed in excess) is also related to increased prevalence of alcohol-induced liver disease and the risk for cirrhosis.

What This Means For You:

It’s great news for coffee drinkers—no matter if you drink ground, instant, or decaf—studies show that coffee is protective against liver disease. 

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Article Sources
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  1. Kennedy OJ, Fallowfield JA, Poole R, Hayes PC, Parkes J, Roderick PJ. All coffee types decrease the risk of adverse clinical outcomes in chronic liver disease: a UK Biobank study. BMC Public Health. 2021;21(1):970. doi:10.1186/s12889-021-10991-7

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FastStats: chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. Updated March 1, 2021.

  3. Kennedy OJ, Roderick P, Buchanan R, Fallowfield JA, Hayes PC, Parkes J. Coffee, including caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, and the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2017;7(5):e013739. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-013739