As St. Patrick's Day approaches, many of us may be planning to raise a glass (or several) to celebrate the occasion. While enjoying some festive drinks is certainly part of the fun, it's important to remember that excessive alcohol consumption can take a toll on our health, especially on our liver. But fear not, fellow revelers, as scientific research has discovered a potential prophylaxis to mitigate harm to the liver from alcohol - and it's something you probably already have in your cupboard.
Certainly, we're talking about coffee - the magical elixir that helps us kickstart our mornings and keep us going throughout the day. But did you know that coffee can also act as a secret weapon in the fight against alcoholic liver disease (ALD)? With its antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory properties, coffee can help protect the liver from the damaging effects of excessive alcohol consumption.
Of course, we're not suggesting that you should drink coffee as a license to overindulge in alcohol. Moderation is key, and the best way to protect your liver is still to limit your alcohol intake or avoid it altogether. But if you do choose to partake in some St. Patrick's Day festivities, be sure not to skip your coffee ritual. Keep reading to discover how scientific studies and meta-analyses have identified coffee as a potential bodyguard for the liver, offering protection against the damaging effects of alcohol and other liver-related diseases.
“An increase in daily coffee consumption of two cups is associated with a near halving of the risk of cirrhosis. This is a large effect compared to many medications used for the prevention of disease."
- Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics Journal
Coffee and the Liver: How Coffee Protects Against Alcoholic Liver Disease
Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and it's no secret that many people rely on it to help them start their day. But did you know that coffee could also be beneficial for your liver health? There have been multiple studies conducted over the past decade which conclude that coffee consumption is protective against a variety of liver diseases, including alcoholic liver disease (ALD).
What is Alcoholic Liver Disease?
Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) is a condition caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Over time, alcohol can damage liver cells, leading to inflammation and scarring of the liver. There are three main types of ALD: fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. Fatty liver is the earliest stage of ALD and is characterized by an accumulation of fat in the liver. Alcoholic hepatitis is a more serious form of ALD in which there is liver inflammation and varying degrees of scarring. Patients with severe Alcoholic Hepatitis develop jaundice, have impaired ability to clot and are admitted to the hospital for treatment since it can be a life-threatening condition. Alcoholic Cirrhosis is the most severe form of ALD and can lead to a variety of complications including liver failure.
How Does Coffee Protect Against ALD?
According to the report: "Coffee and the liver – the potential health benefits," published in the British Liver Trust in 2016, it was evidenced that coffee consumption may help protect against ALD in several ways. First, coffee contains beneficial compounds called polyphenols and chlorogenic acid, that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce liver inflammation and scarring – key factors in the development of ALD.
Coffee consumption has also been associated with a reduced risk of liver cirrhosis. A study published in the Journal of Hepatology in 2013 found that individuals who drank more than three cups of coffee per day had a 66% lower risk of developing liver cirrhosis than those who drank no coffee.
Drinking coffee may also help reduce the risk of liver cancer, which is a potential complication of ALD. A meta-analysis of 16 studies found that coffee consumption was associated with a 40% reduced risk of liver cancer. The study also found that the protective effect of coffee was stronger in individuals with cirrhosis.
A comparative study published in 2015 that was conducted on a multi-ethnic cohort of over 215,000 men and women over a period of 18 years found that people who drank high levels of coffee had a lower risk of liver cancer and chronic liver disease mortality. Compared to non-coffee drinkers, those who consumed 2-3 cups per day had a 38% reduction in the risk of liver cancer, while those who drank 4 or more cups per day had a 41% reduction in liver cancer risk. Additionally, participants who drank 2-3 cups of coffee per day had a 46% reduction in risk of death from chronic liver disease, while those who drank 4 or more cups had a 71% reduction in risk.
Across all of these studies it was also found that the protective effect of coffee was dose-dependent, meaning that the more coffee a person drank, the greater the protective effect.
“I’ve yet to come across a patient with advanced liver disease who drank 4 or 5 cups of coffee per day.”
Dr. Sanjiv Chopra, M.B.B.S, M.A.C.P.
Professor of Medicine and former Faculty Dean for Continuing Medical Education at Harvard Medical School;
Author of The Big 5 and Coffee! The Magical Elixir;
Purity Coffee® Board Member since 2017
These studies suggest that coffee consumption may help protect against alcoholic liver disease (ALD) by reducing inflammation, reducing the risk of liver cirrhosis (more severe disease in which Islands of liver cells are totally surrounded by scar tissue), and reducing the risk of Primary Liver Cancer (cancer arising within the liver). While more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between coffee and liver health, these findings are certainly encouraging for coffee lovers who are looking for ways to support their liver health. So, go ahead and enjoy that cup of coffee – your liver may well thank you for it!
However, the protective effect of coffee is not a substitute for moderate alcohol consumption or abstinence from alcohol altogether. It is important to remember that the best way to protect your liver from the harmful effects of alcohol is to moderate your alcohol intake, or to abstain from alcohol altogether if you have a history of liver disease, other liver-related health problems or a family history of alcohol use disorder. Excessive alcohol consumption can still cause significant damage to the liver and lead to liver cirrhosis, regardless of coffee consumption. Additionally, maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, being close to one's ideal body weight, as well as regular exercise, vaccination against Hepatitis A and B Viruses if needed (a simple blood test can help your clinician decide whether you need these vaccines) can also help support liver health.