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Is Drinking Coffee Really an Advantage for Hepatitis C?

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For people with a chronic health concern, claims of coffee’s benefits and dangers have essentially canceled each other out. However, new research on coffee and Hepatitis C tips the scale for those with this illness.

Besides water, coffee is the world’s most popular beverage. While at least half of Americans drink one cup or more per day, we are still uncertain if drinking coffee is a boon or peril to our health. Since the liver must process everything we eat or drink, those with advanced liver disease from chronic Hepatitis C are especially wary of any type of habitual consumption. However, new research demonstrates that those with chronic Hepatitis C have a lot to gain from a several cup per day coffee habit.

The Bitter Beverage

When a cup of black, relatively strong coffee is consumed, there is no doubt that bitterness dominates its flavor profile. Even though many people don’t care for bitterness overwhelming their palate, the chemical compounds responsible for a bitter flavor are often beneficial to the liver. Bitter substances are known to aid a liver with chronic Hepatitis C, because they help keep the gallbladder and liver free from unnecessary obstruction by:

  • Stimulating the gallbladder to release bile for fat digestion
  • Stimulating detoxification activity in the liver

Thus, many liver supportive foods, medications and herbs are bitter. Chemists in Germany and the U.S. believe they have identified the chemicals that are largely responsible for coffee’s bitterness. In their collaborative study, researchers found that two main classes of compounds produced during the roasting process, chlorogenic acid lactones and phenylindanes are responsible for coffee’s bitterness. Both compounds are antioxidants and are not present in green, unroasted coffee beans.

New Research

Over the past several years, population studies have demonstrated that high levels of coffee consumption are associated with a decreased incidence of liver disease. However, the recipients of coffee’s benefits now specifically include those with Hepatitis C.

Research released by Neal Freedman and colleagues from the National Cancer Institute examined the relationship between coffee consumption and liver disease progression in those with Hepatitis C. In 766 individuals who had Hepatitis C-related bridging fibrosis or cirrhosis (as determined by liver biopsy), and who did not respond to antiviral therapy, the following was found:

  • Compared with non-coffee drinkers, people who drank more coffee had significantly healthier livers as seen by several standard liver tests.
  • Study participants who drank three or more cups of coffee per day had up to a 53 percent reduction in risk for liver disease progression.
  • The liver protective effect exerted by daily coffee consumption was reduced as the number of cups per day decreased.

According to Freedman, “Given the large number of people affected by HCV (Hepatitis C), it is important to identify modifiable risk factors associated with the progression of liver disease. Although we cannot rule out a possible role for other factors that go along with drinking coffee, results from our study suggest that patients with high coffee intake had a lower risk of disease progression.”

Cause for Coffee Caution

Based on Freedman’s research, it might seem logical for those with Hepatitis C to double their coffee intake. However, coffee does have some caveats that are worth reviewing first:

  • Caffeine, coffee’s main ingredient, is a mildly addictive stimulant with cardiovascular effects such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and occasional irregular heartbeat.
  • Coffee is believed to aggravate previously existing gastritis or gastrointestinal ulcers.
  • The caffeine in coffee can cause nervousness, rapid heartbeat, palpitations, sleeplessness and irritability.
  • While not considered a significant risk factor for osteoporosis, high doses of coffee can impair calcium absorption, which weakens bone strength.

Besides the possible side effects listed above, the greater risk of coffee consumption lies with the ingredients typically added to it. To reduce coffee’s bitterness, creating a light and sweet drink carries an entirely separate set of hazards. Because they add calories, fat and/or manmade chemicals, whipped cream, flavored syrups, half-and-half, sugar, sucralose and aspartame all contribute to health conditions that will worsen Hepatitis C.

Individuals with Hepatitis C have become accustomed to learning what they should avoid because it can damage their liver. Thus, it is a welcome change for Hepatitis C sufferers to discover that multiple, daily cups of coffee can actually prevent liver disease progression. Besides the health conditions that could be aggravated by coffee and the additives that reduce its bitterness, a majority of people with Hepatitis C have every reason to indulge in their favorite hot morning beverage.

References:, How Many Americans Drink Coffee?, Shelley Moore, Retrieved October 31, 2009, eHow, Inc., 2009., HALT-C Overview, Retrieved October 30, 2009, National Institutes of Health, 2009., Bitter Coffee, Better Health, Walter Jessen, Retrieved October 30, 2009, Highlihght Health, 2009., Coffee Slows Progression of Liver Disease in Hepatitis C Patients with Advanced Fibrosis or Cirrhosis, Retrieved October 30, 2009,, October 2009., Coffee’s Liver Benefits, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved October 30, 2009, Natural Wellness, 2009., Bitter Herbs, Retrieved October 30, 2009, Prodigal Gardens, 2009., Coffee intake is associated with lower rates of liver disease progression in chronic hepatitis C, Neal D. Freeman, et al, Retrieved October 30, 2009, Hepatology, July 2009.

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