More Good News for Coffee Drinkers: It Benefits Your Liver

coffee good for liver

Story at-a-glance -

  • A large meta-analysis of more than 2 million adults found that drinking one cup of coffee a day was associated with a 20 percent reduced risk of developing hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a type of liver cancer
  • Drinking two cups of caffeinated coffee per day was linked to a 35 percent reduced HCC risk; in fact, the more coffee people drink, the lower their HCC risk
  • Neurological diseases, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver and endometrial, cutaneous melanoma skin cancer and liver cancer are some of the diseases that are suppressed by coffee consumption

By Dr. Mercola

Some say the most-consumed beverage in the world is tea, and others maintain it's coffee. Whichever is true from year to year, it's a fact that an estimated 3.5 billion cups of coffee are downed by bean aficionados on a daily basis, according to the European Coffee Federation.1

Between the leaf and the bean, it's well-known that an amazing array of health benefits are delivered, but new information published in BMJ Open2 says drinking a single cup of coffee every day cuts your risk of developing a serious liver cancer called hepatocellular, or HCC, by a fifth.

According to CBS Philly, HCC is the second-most prevalent cause of death from cancer in the world.3 The 19 percent lowered risk of HCC poses a major advantage from just one cup, but if you drink more than that in a day, your risk for liver cancer is even lower, the research team reported. In fact, five cups of coffee a day is associated with a 50 percent drop in your risk of this type of cancer. Medical News Today reports:

"The researchers came to their conclusion by conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis of more than 26 observational studies, which included information on more than 2.25 million adults. The team looked at the coffee intake of the participants — including how many cups they consumed each day, as well as whether the coffee was caffeinated or decaffeinated — and whether or not this might be associated with the risk of developing HCC."4

Other variables like body mass index (BMI), alcohol consumption, smoking, type 2 diabetes and hepatitis B and C viruses were taken into consideration, after which more than 2 million study participants who drank two cups a day showed a 35 percent drop in their HCC risk. Lead study author Dr. Oliver Kennedy from the U.K.'s University of Southampton, working with the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, cautioned:

"We're not suggesting that everyone should start drinking five cups of coffee a day though. There needs to be more investigation into the potential harms of high coffee-caffeine intake, and there is evidence it should be avoided in certain groups, such as pregnant women."5

Hepatocellular Cancer: Risk Factors, Including Alcohol

It's a good thing scientists made this discovery about how coffee affects HCC now, because the American Cancer Society's numbers on liver cancer are pretty sobering: Nearly 41,000 new cases are projected to be diagnosed in 2017, the numbers are increasing every year and HCC is expected to make up most of them.6

Reasons why HCC has such a high rate of death throughout the world is due to poor prognosis and high frequency, especially in China and Southeast Asia, a news release from the University of Southampton explained. They added that by 2030, new cases will have climbed by about 50 percent to upward of 1.2 million.7 While the researchers had earlier noted there was no evidence proving that drinking more than five cups a day would be of benefit, the study showed that:

  • The more coffee people drink (up to five cups), the lower their risk
  • People who drink decaffeinated coffee have a lower risk, as well, although to a lesser extent
  • People with pre-existing liver disease have a lower risk
  • Drinking coffee may actually help prevent people from developing liver disease

The same study returned another startling bit of information suggesting that lifestyle factors such as diet, level of physical activity and weight can reduce — and arguably exacerbate — someone's chances of developing some types of liver problems, if not HCC or some other liver cancer. According to Medical News Today,8 certain individuals have an increased risk, including:

  • People who already have liver disease
  • Individuals whose livers have been damaged due to bouts of hepatitis B or C
  • People with an autoimmune disease
  • People with chronic liver inflammation

Additional Studies Show More Benefits for Coffee Drinkers

A review conducted in Spain in 2013 noted, "Coffee purportedly possesses a range of health effects in addition to those on the liver, including lower incidences of neurological diseases, various cancers and any-cause mortality."9 Coffee helps suppress several cancers, studies show, as well as diabetes:

  • In the U.S., endometrial cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs and affects an estimated 1 in 37 women in their lifetime. But scientists at Imperial College London discovered that consuming three to four cups of coffee a day may decrease the risk of endometrial cancer by 19 percent, according to the American Association for Cancer Research.10
  • The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health and Yale School of Public Health at Yale University reported that drinking coffee could reduce the risk of cutaneous melanoma skin cancer, the deadliest form of skin cancer, again, by a fifth. Further, consuming four cups of caffeinated coffee a day was associated with a 20 percent decreased risk of malignant melanoma.11
  • In 2014, the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston reported that drinking coffee may also benefit people with type 2 diabetes, based on three studies ending in 2006 and 2007, involving 48,464 women in one, 47,510 women in another and 27,759 men in the third. All who increased their coffee intake by an average of 1.69 cups per day over a four-year period showed a drop in type 2 diabetes risk of 11 percent.12
  • Regular consumption of coffee was linked with a reduced risk of liver cirrhosis. The liver becomes scarred often as a result of long-term and persistent injury from toxins like alcohol and viruses like hepatitis C, but an extra two cups of coffee per day may reduce the risk of cirrhosis by 44 percent.13

The University of Southampton said compound molecules in coffee contain antioxidant and anticarcinogenic properties, which may account for the lower rates of chronic liver problems, as well as additional health benefits experienced by coffee devotees. University of Edinburgh professor Peter Hayes added another discovery:

"We have shown that coffee reduces cirrhosis and also liver cancer in a dose-dependent manner. Coffee has also been reported to reduce the risk of death from many other causes. Our research adds to the evidence that, in moderation, coffee can be a wonderful natural medicine."14

And That's Not All

Authority Nutrition15 observed a number of other advantages coffee lovers enjoy, including "improve[d] mood, reaction time, memory, vigilance and general cognitive function,"16 most attributed to the high levels of antioxidants and minerals and the percentages they provided per one cup of coffee:

  • Riboflavin (vitamin B-2) — 11 percent
  • Pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5) — 6 percent
  • Potassium — 3 percent
  • Manganese — 3 percent
  • Niacin (vitamin B-3) and thiamine (vitamin B-1) — 2 percent

Studies have shown that coffee might up your intelligence quotient, as caffeine is a stimulant that blocks the effects of adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, in your brain.17 This essentially "increases neuronal firing in the brain and the release of other neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine."18 Coffee may protect your brain in other ways, including possibly lowering your chances of developing Alzheimer's,19 the most common neurodegenerative disorder in the world, and Parkinson's20 disease.

It also has been shown to help lower your risk of clogged arteries and heart attacks. It's possible that drinking coffee may help you lose weight, or at least help prevent you from gaining. Caffeine is an energy booster, which may prompt more physical activity, as well as less hunger. Another animal study published in Nutrition & Diabetes in 2014 reported that mice given a high-fat diet, as well as coffee, didn't gain weight as fast as the mice that didn't drink coffee.21 

If you've heard of ketogenic coffee (aka fat burning), you know there's a specialized recipe designed to encourage your body to burn fats instead of carbs for fuel. It only entails adding a few beneficial ingredients to your coffee in the form of MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) oil and raw grass fed butter. Ketogenic diets are very effective for optimizing your mitochondrial function through your diet.

The way it works has everything to do with burning fat as your primary fuel rather than sugars. When your body is able to burn fat for fuel, your liver creates ketones that burn better than carbs, creating less reactive oxygen species and secondary free radicals that can damage your cellular and mitochondrial cell membranes, proteins and DNA.

Benefits and Downsides to Drinking 'The Brew From the Bean'

Here's another new finding: Coffee may not just be the "jolt" people crave to increase their energy first thing in the morning. While sleep deprivation may increase pain levels people feel, coffee might help diminish that pain. An animal experiment showed that caffeine reduced pain better than over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and prescription-only meds like morphine. In fact, Boston Magazine noted:

"After five days of sleep deprivation, mice were markedly more sensitive to pain. And when it came to relieving that pain, ibuprofen didn't help. Even morphine lost much of its efficacy when used on tired mice … Caffeine, on the other hand, reduced that hypersensitivity."22

There's evidence that coffee has a positive effect on inflammation, especially an inflamed liver, as the liver was where another study found the greatest benefit, Medical News Today reported. Researchers in one study noted that coffee consumption decreases damaged DNA in blood cells and prevents ex vivo damage, which is damage outside a test tube as opposed to inside the body, or in vivo.23

People who have a history of abusing alcohol are also at much higher risk. Research produced by scientists at London's World Cancer Research Fund International revealed in 2016 that drinking three alcoholic drinks a day can be enough to trigger liver cancer. Medical News Today quoted Amanda McLean, director of World Cancer Research Fund UK, as saying:

"Around three or more drinks per day can be enough to cause liver cancer. Until now we were uncertain about the amount of alcohol likely to lead to liver cancer. But the research reviewed in this report is strong enough, for the first time, to be more specific about this."24

If you drink coffee, chances are, it's one of the highlights of your day. But experts caution that, not only should pregnant women steer clear of caffeine, for those who drink too much, there are a few side effects that may make you more than a little uncomfortable. Medical News Today lists an accelerated heart rate, nervousness that could be serious enough to call anxiety, irritability and even muscle tremors.

Excess caffeine from either coffee or tea may lead to urinary incontinence, as well as insomnia. Here's another thing to note: While the take-home of the review is that coffee is good for you, there are a few caveats, the most important being that the study featured black coffee, with no sugar or sweeteners, artificial or otherwise, and no cream, dairy substitutes or artificial coffee creamers.

In addition, coffee is a heavily chemically contaminated crop, so always look for organic varieties and, to protect the environment, shade-grown beans.

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