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Coffee Linked to Reduced Liver Inflammation, Lower Liver Cancer Risk


People who drank more coffee -- both regular and decaffeinated -- had lower levels of liver inflammation enzymes in a large population survey, while another recent study found that coffee consumption was associated with a lower risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a type of liver cancer.

The National Coffee Association estimates that more than half of Americans over age 18 drink 3 cups of coffee per day, on average, according to a news release issued by Hepatology publisher Wiley. Previous studies suggest that coffee consumption is associated with reduced risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and liver cancer -- although the benefits of decaffeinated coffee are unclear.

Liver Inflammation

As described in the August 13 edition of Hepatology, Qian Xiao from the National Cancer Institute and colleagues looked at the link between coffee consumption and liver biomarkers in the 1999-2010 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which included 27,793 participants age 20 or older.

Participants were asked about their coffee consumption during the previous 24 hours and were tested for blood levels of the liver enzymes alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alkaline phosphatase (ALP), and gamma glutamyl transaminase (GGT) -- biomarkers associated with liver inflammation.

A number of factors including viral hepatitis, heavy alcohol use, and drug toxicity can trigger inflammation as the liver attempts to heal itself. Over time, chronic inflammation can contribute to serious complications including cirrhosis and liver cancer.

The researchers found that total coffee consumption was inversely associated with abnormal levels of all 4 liver enzymes -- meaning that people who drank more coffee had lower levels, indicating less inflammation, after controlling for other factors including smoking and alcohol use.

Compared with people who said they did not drink coffee, participants who reported drinking 3 or more cups per day had enzyme levels ranging from 18% to 31% lower (odds ratios: 0.75 for ALT, 0.82 for AST, 0.73 for ALP, 0.69 for GGT). A similar pattern was seen for the 2000 people who said they drank 2 or more daily cups of decaffeinated coffee (odds ratios: 0.62 for ALT, 0.74 for AST, 0.70 for GGT).

"Higher intakes of coffee, regardless of its caffeine content, were associated with lower levels of liver enzymes," the study authors concluded.

"These data suggest that ingredients in coffee, other than caffeine, may promote liver health," Xiao added.

Liver Cancer

In the second study, described in the September 15 International Journal of Cancer, Christina Bamia from the University of Athens Medical School and an international team of investigators looked at the relationship between coffee consumption and hepatocellular carcinoma in a European population.

This analysis included 486,799 participants in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study. Within this group, the researchers identified a total of 201 cases of HCC.

Over a median follow-up period of 11 years, they found that increased coffee and tea consumption were consistently associated with lower HCC risk. These inverse associations were "substantial, monotonic, and statistically significant," the study authors wrote.

People who drank the most coffee (highest quintile) had a 72% lower risk of HCC than those with the lowest consumption (hazard ratio 0.28). For tea, there was a 59% lower HCC risk (hazard ratio 0.41). This pattern held for people with a variety of HCC risk factors, including hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

Unlike the preceding study, the association between coffee consumption and HCC risk was only apparent for caffeinated, not decaffeinated, coffee, though the authors noted that data on decaffeinated coffee consumption was available for only a small proportion of participants.

"Results from this multicenter European cohort study strengthen the existing evidence regarding the inverse association between coffee/tea and HCC risk," the reseachers concluded. "Given the apparent lack of heterogeneity of these associations by HCC risk factors and that coffee/tea are universal exposures, our results could have important implications for high HCC risk subjects."



Q Xiao, R Sinha, BI Graubard, and ND Freedman. Inverse associations of total and decaffeinated coffee with liver enzyme levels in NHANES 1999-2010. Hepatology. August 13, 2014 (Epub ahead of print).

C Bamia, P Lagiou, M Jenab, et al. Coffee, tea and decaffeinated coffee in relation to hepatocellular carcinoma in a European population: Multicentre, prospective cohort study. International Journal of Cancer. September 15, 2014 (Epub ahead of print).

Other Source

Wiley. Drinking Decaf or Regular Coffee May Be Good for the Liver. News release. October 9, 2014.