Drinking Coffee May Decrease Incidence of Alcohol Related Cirrhosis of the Liver

What should you do if you drink too much alcohol? Well, according to a study conducted by researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, CA adding another vice may help to keep your liver from being damaged by the poisonous effects of the alcohol. Think about having a strong cup of coffee, or four.

Actually, the researchers make it clear that the best thing you can do to avoid damage to your liver is to abstain from drinking more alcohol, of course. Nonetheless, there is some interesting information from the Research Division of Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program study being published in the June 12, 2006 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine about the relationship between drinking coffee and alcohol related liver damage.

Initially prompted by evidence that drinking coffee may reduce the risk of developing liver cancer, the researchers at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland developed the coffee study, studying the medical records of over 125,000 people, whose alcohol habits ranged from heavy drinkers to abstainers. Each of the study participants caffeine and alcohol use were noted. Their medical charts and case histories were reviewed over a period averaging 14 years to track their alcohol use and health status.

In their paper entitled “Coffee, Cirrhosis, and Transaminase Enzymes,” co-authors Arthur L. Klatsky, MD, Cynthia Morton, MD, Natalia Udaltsova,PhD, and Gary D. Friedman, MD studied 125,580 multi-ethnic members of the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan. The subjects were without previously known liver disease, and provided Kaiser Permanente with baseline data at voluntary health examinations between 1978 and 1985. Upon further review, the incidence of subsequent diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver was studied in correlation with their coffee drinking habits.

According to the report, which studied the effects of drinking coffee on the progression of cirrhosis of the liver in alcohol drinkers, drinking one cup of coffee per day reduced the risk of alcoholic cirrhosis by 20 percent, while drinking four cups per day reduced that risk by a surprising 80 percent. According to the researchers, the coffee may counteract the poisonous effects of the alcohol on the liver. Whether the key component of the coffee’s relationship with the development of cirrhosis is the caffeine or some other ingredient found in coffee is still undetermined.

The liver function tests and risk of cirrhosis were monitored in all of the study participants, not just those of the drinkers. According to the report, the coffee drinkers had healthier liver function results, regardless of alcohol use.

The authors of this study are all affiliated with Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program; two are with the Division of Research, one with the Department of Gastroenterology, and one with the Department of Medicine.

The full report of the study can be read in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 2006;166:1190-1195.

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