Coffee, alcohol, and liver health

Does coffee really protect your liver from alcohol damage?

At first sight, this looks like one of those tabloid headlines that sound wonderful news, but on closer examination turn out to be complete nonsense. As an example of the wider end of these stories, we concluded earlier that no, champagne doesn’t actually prevent dementia.

This week’s headlines claim that drinking two cups of coffee will prevent damage to your liver, including cirrhosis of the liver (here’s what South Wales Evening Post reported). The story has been widely reported in many newspapers. But how much truth is there in these claims? Club Soda went behind the headlines to find out what’s the real story with coffee, alcohol, and liver health.

What’s the story?

The source of the current news stories about coffee and liver health is an article in a reputable medical journal (you can actually read the whole article for free here), which concludes that “increasing coffee consumption may substantially reduce the risk of cirrhosis”. It goes on to say that drinking two cups per day reduces the risk of liver cirrhosis by nearly 50%.

What’s the real story?

The academic research in this case is not a single study, but an amalgamation of several earlier studies. This means that the results are more likely to be reliable, as they are based on a larger number of people. And the results from all the studies analysed seem to point in the same direction: coffee drinkers do have much lower rates of liver diseases This study looked at cirrhosis only, but similar results have earlier been found for liver cancer as well. And there are other indications that coffee is good for some other things as well,

So this sounds like solid science, but there are still some question marks. For example, doctors don’t yet know how and why coffee has the beneficial properties it seems to have. And it is still possible that they have missed something else, for example that coffee drinkers also have some other habits that make them less likely to get liver illnessess. By the way, there are also indications that decaf coffee has similar benefits to regular coffee. Caffeine itself has also been shown to have good properties for our health, but coffee contains many different chemicals and it’s not yet known exactly which of them are the good ones for us.

So should I start drinking more coffee?

So if that’s the score with coffee, alcohol, and liver health, should we all start drinking more of the black stuff?

If you do drink alcohol, it does look like coffee may have some protective properties against liver diseases – but do keep in mind that even in the best possible case, the risk is only reduced, not completely removed. Drinking is still bad for your liver, no matter how much coffee you drink as well.

And coffee could also have some negative effects (possibly including some cancers and weaker bones). But overall coffee seems to be – on balance – good for us, at least when drunk in moderation. So a couple of cups a day is indeed likely to be helpful in protecting your liver against some of the damage that alcohol can do.

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