It turns out that coffee might be good for all sorts of ailments.
Scientists, however, aren’t exactly sure why.
The latest hurrah for coffee comes from a new study published in the science journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics.
It was conducted by researchers at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, who found a direct correlation between coffee consumption and reduced risk of cirrhosis of the liver.
The findings were amassed from a meta-analysis of nine separate coffee-related studies conducted by various researchers over a number of years.
From it, researchers concluded that people who drink two additional cups of coffee above average consumption rates have a 44 percent lower risk of developing cirrhosis, an incurable disease that kills roughly 1 million people each year.
The numbers improve to 57 percent and 65 percent at three and four additional cups, above the average. Just one extra cup can lower a person's chance of developing cirrhosis by 22 percent.
The apparent protective effects of coffee were culled from studies that included more than 430,000 men and women.
They represent the latest in a series of studies evaluating how caffeinated coffee's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may help reduce the risk of people developing everything from Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes, heart failure, and liver disease.
"This could be an important finding for patients at risk of cirrhosis to help to improve their health outcomes," Dr. Oliver Kennedy, who led the study for the University of Southampton, said in a statement. "However, we now need robust clinical trials to investigate the wider benefits and harms of coffee so that doctors can make specific recommendations to patients.”
What's in the Bean?
Medical professionals, including the study's authors, are quick to point out that it's not entirely clear which chemical properties in coffee, including but not limited to caffeine, are responsible for protecting the liver from cirrhosis.
It's also uncertain if merely the consumption of the compounds in coffee are solely responsible for the apparent prevention of cirrhosis.
"Coffee contains a range of biologically active ingredients beyond caffeine, including anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory agents such as chlorogenic acid, kahweol and cafestol, and there is evidence that these many confer protection against liver fibrosis," the study said.
The data also suggests that the protective effect of coffee against cirrhosis may also involve indirect mechanisms that modify risk factors.
For years, research has found that "various constituents of coffee" inhibit the activities of hepatitis B and C viruses that attack the liver and can ultimately lead to cirrhosis.
The recent study concluded that chlorogenic acid in coffee is "likely important" because it has been shown to inhibit glucose absorption in the gut and improve glucose metabolism, which would go a long way toward explaining why coffee appears to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and help prevent inflammation, fibrosis, and scarring of the liver en route to cirrhosis.
The concern is that people who are already consuming lots of coffee will ratchet it up another level — particularly if they're heavy drinkers who might have good reason to fear the possibility of eventually developing cirrhosis.
This could expose these heavy coffee drinkers to some ancillary health risks associated with excessive caffeine consumption.
Moderation and Muted Expectations
One of the recurring themes found among patients suffering from alcohol-induced cirrhosis is obesity, a factor that continually tops the charts for a variety of serious, life-threatening ailments and conditions including liver disease.
The interaction between common addictions, be they alcohol, cigarettes, food or coffee can all combine to create a perfect storm for the liver.
This becomes particularly problematic for those who take a lot of sugar in their coffee or gravitate toward lattes, mochas, and other syrupy, high-calorie beverages that played no small part in propelling Starbucks Corp. to record sales of more than $5.4 billion in its latest quarter.
"I think that there is increasing evidence over the past few years that coffee consumption is protective from chronic liver disease and certainly for alcohol," Dr. Vijay Shah, chair of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Mayo Clinic, told Healthline. "However the mechanism of beneficial effect isn't certain."
What is certain, he said, is that coffee in any amount is no magical elixir that will offset the adverse effects of chronic alcohol abuse on the liver. Nor will it undo the increased stress and damage that results from obesity, complications associated with hepatitis, and a genetic predisposition to liver disease.
"There are interesting parallels between alcohol and coffee," Shah said. "But we have to be careful. When we say something is helpful if you use or consume it that's different than advising someone to take something as a therapeutic treatment.
What these studies don't show is that too much coffee isn't good for you. It has a determinant effect on blood pressure and neurological function, so don't start drinking coffee or drinking more coffee just because it might prevent cirrhosis."