Drinking coffee every day is linked to a reduced risk of liver cirrhosis, according to a new review of published evidence that also suggests drinking two extra cups a day may nearly halve the risk of dying from the disease.
The systematic review and meta-analysis is published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics.
The researchers - from the University of Southampton in the UK - pooled and analyzed data from nine long-term studies covering nearly half a million men and women from six countries.
The analysis shows a dose-response relationship between coffee consumption and liver cirrhosis - with more cups per day linked to lower risk.
Two extra cups of coffee per day were linked to a 44% lower risk of developing liver cirrhosis and a nearly 50% lower risk of death to the disease.
Liver cirrhosis can be fatal because it raises the risk of liver failure and cancer.
The condition develops when healthy tissue in the liver is replaced by scarred tissue, often as a result of long-term and persistent injury from viruses like hepatitis C and toxins like alcohol.
Liver cirrhosis is an important public health concern and a significant cause of disease and death in the US. The prevalence is likely to be higher than official figures suggest because many cases are undiagnosed.
A recent estimate suggests around 0.27% of Americans - some 633,323 adults - have liver cirrhosis, with 69% unaware of the fact they have the disease.
Effect is 'larger than that of statins on reducing cardiovascular risk'
In their paper, where they discuss the results, the authors explain that coffee has many biologically active ingredients, in addition to caffeine. These include "oxidative and anti-inflammatory agents, such as chlorogenic acid, kahweol and cafestol," and there is evidence, they note, that these may "confer protection against liver fibrosis."
In addition to a direct biochemical effect, there could also be an indirect effect of coffee protecting against cirrhosis, suggest the researchers. For example, they cite lab studies that show various compounds found in coffee block hepatitis B and C viruses and studies that show links between increased coffee consumption and reduction in type 2 diabetes.
The paper concludes that the analysis shows the link between increased daily coffee consumption and reduction in risk of liver cirrhosis is large - larger than that of many medications used for the prevention of disease.
"For example," note the authors, "statin therapy reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by 25%."
They also point out that "unlike many medications, coffee is generally well tolerated and has an excellent safety profile."
Lead and corresponding author Dr. O. J. Kennedy, of Southampton's Faculty of Medicine, concludes:
"Coffee appeared to protect against cirrhosis. This could be an important finding for patients at risk of cirrhosis to help to improve their health outcomes. 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."
In November 2015, Medical News Today learned how chronic liver disease and cirrhosis are among the reasons death rates are increasing among middle-aged white Americans.
Our Knowledge Center article - "Coffee: health benefits, nutritional information" - looks at some of the other ways the popular beverage may benefit our health, as well as the risks associated with it.