New Research Details Dietary Dos and Don'ts for Liver Disease

Coffee may have some protective properties. Alcohol implicated, again, as a risk factor.

People drink coffee mainly to perk themselves up, but those cups of Joe may also have some health benefits, including benefits for the body’s largest organ and metabolic clearinghouse.

Researchers at the Universities of Southampton and Edinburgh in the United Kingdom found that drinking any type of coffee, either caffeinated or noncaffeinated, was associated with a significant reduced risk of developing and dying from chronic liver disease compared to not drinking coffee, according to the study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

Compared to noncoffee drinkers, coffee drinkers had a 49% reduced risk of death from chronic liver disease, a 21% reduced risk of chronic liver disease and a 20% reduced risk of chronic or fatty liver disease.

“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 lead author Oliver Kennedy with the University of Southampton in an article posted on the university’s website. “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.”

The maximum benefit was seen in the group who drank ground coffee, which contains high levels of the ingredients kahweol and cafestol, substances found in coffee that may explain coffee’s myriad health benefits, although kahweol and cafestol may also have some drawbacks, such as increasing blood cholesterol levels.

If coffee is something of an elixir for the liver, then high-fat diets and alcohol consumption are its polar opposite and may do it some harm.

Excessive alcohol has long known been known to be a major risk factor for developing liver disease. More than two million people in the U.S. in 2017 had alcohol-associated cirrhosis in 2017, researchers wrote in a review published last month in JAMA. “Alcohol-associated liver disease is the primary cause of liver-related mortality and the leading indication for liver transplant, representing 40% to 50% of all liver transplant in high-income countries,” wrote Ashwani Singal, M.D., of the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine, and Philippe Mathurin of Huriez Hospital in Lille, France.

The rate of alcohol consumption has increased during the pandemic, according to new reports, leading to more alcohol-related liver disease. The University of Southern California has seen a 30% increase in hospital admissions for alcohol-related liver disease since March 2020, Brian Lee, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine and a liver transplant specialist at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, told NBC News.

High-fat diets have also been implicated as a cause of liver disease for some time. Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine recently reported findings from experiments in mice that added to the evidence. They found that Western diets rich in calories, fat and cholesterol led to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and that NASH progressed to hepatocellular carcinoma, chronic kidney and cardiovascular disease. With a “normal chow diet” that depends on proteins and carbohydrates for supplying calories rather than fats, NASH and liver fibrosis improved and cancer progression and mortality were prevented, according to a university news release.