Here’s why 3 or 4 cups of coffee a day may be good for us

Here’s why 3 or 4 cups of coffee a day may be good for us
Courtesy: Luis Alvarez | DigitalVision via Getty Images

Drinking coffee that is caffeinated, ground or instant, or decaffeinated is associated with a reduced risk of developing chronic liver disease and related liver conditions, a new study by scientists in the UK has found.

Researchers at the Universities of Southampton and Edinburgh found that drinking any type of coffee was associated with a reduced risk of developing and dying from chronic liver disease compared to not drinking coffee, with the benefit peaking at three to four cups per day.

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“Coffee is widely accessible and the benefits we see from our study may mean it could offer a potential preventative treatment for chronic liver disease,” said Dr Oliver Kennedy, the lead author.

“This would be especially valuable in countries with lower income and worse access to healthcare and where the burden of chronic liver disease is highest,” he said.

The study, published in the open access journal ‘BMC Public Health’ this week, was based on UK Biobank data on 495,585 participants with known coffee consumption, who were followed over a median of 10.7 years to monitor who developed chronic liver disease and related liver conditions.

Instant coffee, which has low levels of Kahweol and cafestol, was associated with a reduced the risk of chronic liver disease. While the reduction in risk was smaller than that associated with ground coffee, the finding may suggest that other ingredients, or potentially a combination of ingredients, may be beneficial.

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Of all participants included in the study, 78 per cent (384,818) consumed ground or instant caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee, while 22 per cent (109,767) did not drink any type of coffee. During the study period, there were 3,600 cases of chronic liver disease, including 301 deaths. Additionally, there were 5,439 cases of chronic liver disease or steatosis (a build up of fat in the liver also known as fatty liver disease), and 184 cases of Hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer.

Compared to non-coffee drinkers, coffee-drinkers had a 21 per cent reduced risk of chronic liver disease, a 20 per cent reduced risk of chronic or fatty liver disease, and a 49 per cent reduced risk of death from chronic liver disease. The maximum benefit was seen in the group who drank ground coffee, which contains high levels of the ingredients Kahweol and cafestol, which have been shown to be beneficial against chronic liver disease in animals.

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The authors caution that, as coffee consumption was only reported when participants first enrolled in the study, the study does not account for any changes in the amount or type of coffee they consumed over the 10.7-year study period. As participants were predominantly white and from a higher socio-economic background, the findings may be difficult to generalise to other countries and populations.

The authors suggest that future research could test the relationship between coffee and liver disease with more rigorous control of the amount of coffee consumed. They also propose validating their findings in more diverse groups of participants.

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