A study of nearly 500,000 people suggests drinking coffee, including decaf, may lower your risk of developing and dying from chronic liver disease and other liver-related problems, with benefits peaking for those who gulp three to four cups a day.
Compared to non-drinkers, people who consume coffee had a 21% reduced risk of chronic liver disease, 20% lower risk of chronic or fatty liver disease, and were 49% less likely to die from chronic liver disease, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal BMC Public Health.
The benefits were more prominent in those who drank ground coffee as opposed to instant coffee, likely because it has high amounts of the ingredients kahweol and cafestol — natural compounds extracted from coffee beans that have been shown to reduce inflammation and stop tumors from growing their own blood vessels, among other beneficial health effects.
The ingredients, which have also been found to aid chronic liver disease in animals, can be found in instant coffee as well, but in lower levels. The researchers said this suggests other ingredients in coffee may play a role in reducing risks for liver disease.
Study lead author Dr. Oliver Kennedy of the University of Southampton in the U.K. noted coffee’s accessibility could make it an invaluable asset for lower-income countries with poor access to health care “where the burden of chronic liver disease is highest.”
“The benefits we see from our study may mean it could offer a potential preventative treatment for chronic liver disease,” Kennedy said in a statement.
The team analyzed data from the UK Biobank on 495,585 people who reported their coffee intake; most of their health records were followed for nearly 11 years.
During the study period, 3,600 people developed chronic liver disease and 301 died. There were also hundreds of cases of fatty liver disease also known as steatosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer.
Most of the study participants were white and from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, which make the findings less generalizable to other countries and populations, the researchers noted.
In the U.S., the highest rates of liver cancer can be found among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, followed by people who are Hispanic/Latino, American Indian/Alaska Native, Black and white, according to the American Cancer Society. The average age liver cancer is diagnosed is 63 years old, affecting more men than women.
Some risk factors that can increase your risk of liver cancer include obesity, heavy alcohol use, smoking tobacco, infection with the hepatitis B and C viruses, and Type 2 diabetes.
Is coffee good or bad for your health?
A lot of conflicting research exists on coffee and its effects on health.
One study published this month on more than 120,000 people found that drinking large amounts of caffeine can increase risks of developing glaucoma specifically for people with certain genes that make them more likely to have high eye pressure — a risk factor for the group of diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness.
Others link coffee consumption to short yet dramatic spikes in blood pressure.
Research also suggests moderate coffee drinking is associated with “a lower likelihood of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver and endometrial cancers, Parkinson’s disease and depression,” according to Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
But coffee for certain people, including children, pregnant women and those with anxiety disorders, may be more harmful than helpful.
And while dousing coffee with flavored creamers and sugars makes for a delicious boost of energy, the additives put a damper on potential health benefits.