Coffee Tied to Lower Risk of Chronic Liver Disease, Liver Disease Death

By Lisa Rapaport

June 23, 2021

(Reuters Health) - People who drink any type of coffee, whether or not it contains caffeine, are less likely to develop or die from chronic liver disease than counterparts who drink no coffee at all, a study of UK Biobank data suggests.

Researchers examined data on 384,818 participants in the UK Biobank study who reported coffee consumption and 109,767 who didn't drink coffee. After a median follow-up period of 10.7 years, researchers identified 3,600 cases of chronic liver disease, 5,439 cases of chronic liver disease or steatosis, 184 cases of hepatocellular carcinoma, and 301 deaths from chronic liver disease.

Compared to participants who didn't consume coffee, those who did had a significantly lower risk of chronic liver disease (adjusted hazard ratio 0.79), chronic liver disease or steatosis (aHR 0.80), hepatocellular carcinoma (aHR 0.80), and death from chronic liver disease (aHR 0.51).

"Our findings that all coffee types are protective, including decaffeinated coffee that might be preferable for certain people, for example pregnant women, suggest that a combination of chemical compounds may be at work," said lead study author Dr. Oliver Kennedy of Southampton University.

Randomized controlled trials are needed to determine if it makes sense for clinicians to prescribe coffee as a prevention against liver disease, Dr. Kennedy said by email. And the benefits of coffee may be different when people drink it with a lot of cream and sugar, Dr. Kennedy added.

Median coffee consumption was two cups a day among those who did drink coffee, the researchers report in BMC Public Health. The maximum protective effect for coffee consumption appeared at three to four cups a day.

Among those who did drink coffee, 79,644 (19%) consumed decaffeinated coffee. Those who drank decaffeinated coffee were more likely to be female and older, and less likely to be current smokers.

Compared to participants who didn't drink any type of coffee, those who drank decaffeinated coffee had a significantly lower risk of chronic liver disease (HR 0.80), chronic liver disease or steatosis (HR 0.85), and death from chronic liver disease (HR 0.36).

Instant coffee did appear to have less of a protective effect than ground coffee, however. For example, the risk reduction for developing chronic liver disease was less pronounced with instant coffee (HR 0.85) than with ground coffee (HR 0.65), as was the risk of dying from liver disease (HR 0.65 and 0.39, respectively).

One limitation of the study is that the amount and type of coffee consumption was only assessed at a single point in time, the authors note. Cup sizes also may have varied, and the researchers were unable to account for this.

However, there are compounds in addition to caffeine - including chlorogenic acids and antioxidants - that have previously been shown to be good for liver health, said V. Wendy Setiawan, chair in cancer research and a professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

"I am not surprised that decaf is also found to be protective against liver diseases," Setiawan, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email.

SOURCE: BMC Public Health, online June 21, 2021.