Researchers have discovered that an increased caffeine intake may reduce the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, according to a study published in the journal Hepatology.

A team from the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School (Duke-NUS) and the Duke University School of Medicine used cell culture and mice as models for the effects of caffeine on the liver disease.

The study found that consuming the caffeine equivalent of four cups of coffee or tea a day may prevent and protect against the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in humans.

People with NAFLD have a build up of extra fat in liver cells that is not caused by alcohol – according to the American Liver Foundation, up to a quarter of Americans have the disease, and there is no treatment, only prevention through diet and exercise.

The study’s researchers show that caffeine reduces fat content within the liver and “stimulates β-oxidation in hepatic cells and liver via an autophagy-lysosomal pathway.”

Paul Yen, associate professor at Duke NUS, says:

This is the first detailed study of the mechanism for caffeine action on lipids in liver and the results are very interesting.

Coffee and tea are so commonly consumed and the notion that they may be therapeutic, especially since they have a reputation for being ‘bad’ for health, is especially enlightening.”

Caffeine consumption certainly has developed a reputation for promoting health problems. For example, Medical News Today recently reported that researchers from the US discovered that drinking four or more cups of coffee a day may lead to a risk of early death.

Other research has suggested that consuming around two cups of coffee a day could be linked to urinary incontinence in men.

On health benefits linked to drinking coffee, the present study is not the first to suggest these. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health say that a lower suicide risk is found in men drinking between 2 and 4 cups of coffee a day.

This latest study, the researchers say, may lead to the development of caffeine-like drugs that have therapeutic effects on the liver, but that do not have the usual side effects related to caffeine.

Additionally, they say these findings may present a starting point for further studies on the full benefits of caffeine in humans.