You’re probably not alone if you rely on that morning cup of coffee to get you through the day, but did you know that drinking coffee can also be good for your health?
Coffee is one of the most popular and most regularly consumed beverages globally with over 2.25 billion cups of coffee consumed daily worldwide. Worth over $30 billion in exports (in 2015), it is also an enormous industry that is extremely important to the economy of many countries.
Coffee and health
The health benefits of drinking coffee have been subject to debate in the academic world. In fact, coffee, the second most common beverage consumed in the United States, was even considered a “probable carcinogen” at one point until this claim was dismissed in 2016 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the arm of the World Health Organization that is responsible for assessing whether certain substances cause cancer.
Numerous studies have shown that drinking coffee was generally associated with a lower risk of dying from all health-related causes of death. In addition, many studies have also looked at the association between drinking coffee and liver health.
Liver disease accounts for approximately 2 million deaths annually worldwide. Of those 2 million, 1 million occur due to health complications arising from cirrhosis, and another 1 million are linked to viral hepatitis and hepatocellular carcinoma.
Liver disease can be genetic (hereditary) but can also be caused by a variety of environmental factors such as alcohol consumption, obesity and viral infections.
Over time, damage to the liver can cause cirrhosis, and even liver failure which can be life-threatening.
The symptoms of liver disease include:
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (known as jaundice)
- Abdominal swelling and pain
- Swelling of the legs and ankles
- Pale stool, dark urine
- Chronic fatigue
- Itchy skin
- Nausea, vomiting and/or loss of appetite
- Tendency to bruise easily
A new study, by researchers from the University of Southampton and University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, published in the BMC Public Health Journal on 22 June, has revealed that drinking coffee was associated with a lower risk of chronic liver disease, fatty liver disease, liver cancer and death from chronic liver disease.
The study involved 495,585 participants from the UK Biobank, 384,818 of whom were coffee drinkers, and 109,767 non-coffee drinkers. Coffee consumers included those who drank either caffeinated, decaffeinated, ground and/or instant coffee and the study participants were followed for an average of 10.7 years.
Over the duration of the study, there were 3,600 cases of chronic liver disease, 5439 cases of chronic liver disease or steatosis (also known as fatty liver disease) and 184 cases of hepatocellular carcinoma, a liver cancer.
The study found that those who were coffee drinkers had a 21% reduced risk of developing chronic liver disease and a 20% lower risk of steatosis. Coffee-drinkers also had a 49% reduced risk of dying from chronic liver disease according to the results.
Those who drank caffeinated, ground coffee experienced the most pronounced health benefits. Although drinking decaffeinated coffee, and instant coffee were also associated with increased health benefits, the largest effects were observed among those who drank ground coffee. The associated health benefits appeared to plateau at around four cups of coffee per day.
There is still much to learn about the exact mechanism in which coffee may improve the health outcomes for those with liver disease – and more research in this area is required and encouraged. Researchers suspect that it is kahweol and cafestol that are responsible for maintaining liver health as they are the two ingredients that are found at their highest levels in ground coffee.
Although this study is promising in that it raises the issue that coffee can help protect against severe liver disease, it most certainly is not definitive in its evidence that coffee itself reduces the risk of liver disease.
To reduce your risk of liver disease it is extremely important to eat a well-balanced diet; ensure that your food is clean and safe; maintain a healthy weight; engage in physical activity; avoid heavy alcohol consumption; use medications wisely; and avoid contact with other people’s blood and body fluids.
Maha El Akoum, MPH, is a public health professional currently working as Head of Content at World Innovation Summit for Health [WISH].