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Hepatitis C Patients: Drink More Coffee for a Healthier Liver

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. November 21, 2008

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Demonstrating a hepatoprotective effect against Hepatitis C, the world’s number one morning beverage lands a victory in the debate over its healthfulness.

People living with Hepatitis C have had just about every aspect of their lifestyle analyzed to determine what could facilitate or impede the progression of liver disease. While most indulgences have been implicated in a worsening of Hepatitis C, drinking coffee may be an exception to this trend.

Over the past few years, several studies have encouraged people with chronic liver disease to be faithful to their preferred morning beverage. Research into its health benefits has revealed some surprising associations with coffee consumption including decreased risks of:

  • alcoholic cirrhosis
  • type 2 diabetes
  • gallstone development
  • liver damage in those with liver disease
  • liver cancer

While the studies bearing such conclusions were encouraging to coffee drinkers with liver disease, there had been little evidence specific to advanced cases of Hepatitis C – until now. As reported at the 59th Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in November 2008, an increase in coffee consumption may slow the progression of liver damage caused by Hepatitis C. Pertinent details of the reported study are listed below:

  • Over 800 people participated in this observational study
  • Participants had Hepatitis C with an Ishak fibrosis score of 3 or higher
  • Participants were unresponsive to standard drug therapies
  • 88 percent of participants drank zero to two cups of coffee a day
  • 12 percent of participants drank three or more cups of coffee daily
  • Those who drank the most coffee also consumed the most alcohol and cigarettes

Considering the known dangers that drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes pose to a person with Hepatitis C, one would expect those with the highest consumption rates to also have the most advanced cases of liver disease. However, this study found the reverse to be true. Compared to those who drank zero to two cups of coffee per day, the coffee drinkers who consumed three or more cups of coffee showed the following indicators of liver health:

  • Less steatosis as determined by liver biopsy
  • Lower bilirubin levels
  • Lower α-fetoprotein levels
  • Lower aspartate aminotransferase/alanine aminotransferase ratios

The calculations of liver damage in these Hepatitis C participants support the idea that consuming three or more cups of coffee per day may protect against the progression of liver disease.

Although this data is exciting for the coffee loving crowd, there are some uncertainties associated with this report. According to Neal D. Freedman, M.D., of the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, in Rockville, Maryland, “This is an observational study, so it may be that coffee is a marker for some other activity. It may be that people who are feeling sicker don’t drink as much coffee.” In addition, there were many details of coffee consumption omitted from the participants’ questionnaires such as:

  • Coffee strength and preparation technique
  • Caffeinated or decaffeinated
  • Coffee additives like milk or sugar

The reason this study is so compelling is because the heavy coffee drinkers who consumed the most alcohol and cigarettes, both known liver toxins, had the least amount of liver damage. Likely due to the 1000-plus compounds in coffee, the jury is still out on why coffee appears to act as a liver protector. There is not enough evidence to conclude that drinking more than two cups of coffee a day fights Hepatitis C. However, there is sufficient proof that Hepatitis C on its own is not reason to abandon a daily coffee habit.

References:

http://www.liversupport.com/wordpress/2006/06/coffees-liver-benefits/, Coffee’s Liver Benefits, Nicole Cutler, Retrieved November 16, 2008, Natural Wellness, June 2006.

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/583121, AASLD 2008: High Coffee Consumption May Slow Hepatitis C Progression, Laurie Bouck, Retrieved November 16, 2008, Medscape, November 2008.

http://www.natap.org/2006/AASLD/AASLD_08.htm, Coffee Appears to Reduce Risk of Fibrosis in HCV+, Jules Levin, Retrieved November 16, 2008, AASLD, The Liver Meeting, October 2006.

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