There are so many rumors about the health benefits or risks of being a coffee drinker. The latest claim is that coffee may help prevent liver disease.
Recent studies published in the journals BMC Public Health and Gastroenterology conclude that there’s some medical evidence to back this up. Chemicals found in coffee — like caffeine, kahweol, and cafestol — have been commonly cited as having anti-inflammatory and liver-protective properties. Though, the exact compounds that prevent liver disease have not been definitively identified.
“The studies showed not just a lower incidence of liver disease, but also complications of liver disease like liver cancer,” says David Goldberg, M.D., a hepatologist with the University of Miami Health System. “Although these data are very encouraging, they need to be confirmed in prospective studies before we can say with confidence that this is the case. There are potentially other lifestyle factors or clinical characteristics of coffee drinkers that may make them less likely to develop a chronic liver disease that could not be accounted for in these observational and retrospective studies.”
What causes liver disease?
Dr. Goldberg says many people associate liver disease with alcoholism. But, today’s most common cause of liver disease is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a metabolic liver disease that is more common in overweight people and those with diabetes.
So, is coffee good or bad for you?
“I get that question frequently,” Dr. Goldberg says. “Patients tell me that someone told them they should stop drinking coffee because it isn’t good for them. I tell them that from the liver perspective, there is nothing to suggest coffee is bad, and it may even be beneficial.” But, he doesn’t specifically tell patients to start drinking coffee to prevent the development of chronic liver disease. Research-based evidence to prove that coffee is good preventive medicine simply isn’t available yet.
Beyond the potential for supporting liver health, coffee consumption can be considered risky for other reasons.
High levels of caffeine consumption can potentially contribute to heart palpitations, shakiness, anxiety, insomnia, acid indigestion, stomach irritation, and high blood pressure. “The dogma for a while had been that coffee should be limited, as it could lead to tachyarrhythmia (fast heart rates like atrial fibrillation),” he says. “However, a large prospective study recently showed the converse: coffee consumption is associated with a decreased risk of arrhythmias.”
These conflicting assumptions and initial findings underscore the need for clinical studies to explore the relationship between coffee, its chemical compounds, and various health outcomes.
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.
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