Coffee protects against alcoholic cirrhosis

A sobering cup of joe after a night of hard drinking may provide some people an unexpected benefit: protection from cirrhosis, a liver-scarring disease that’s common in alcoholics.

More than 5 million people in the United States have cirrhosis, typically from heavy alcohol use. However, only about a quarter of chronic drinkers end up with the disease, leading some researchers to hypothesize that lifestyle factors have a protective effect.

To search for such factors, Arthur L. Klatsky of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Oakland, Calif., and his colleagues analyzed data recorded over more than 2 decades from 125,000 patients enrolled in the large health care plan. Between 1978 and 1985, these people had given detailed information on a variety of personal habits, including how much alcohol, coffee, and tea they drank.

The scientists analyzed the habits of people with similar alcohol consumption who had died from cirrhosis and of people who were free of the disease as of 2001. With each cup of coffee a person drank daily, the risk of cirrhosis dropped about 22 percent. Those who drank more than 4 cups per day were only 20 percent as likely to get the disease as people who did not drink coffee were, the team reports in the June 12 Archives of Internal Medicine.

Although coffee seems to exert some unknown protective effect, notes Klatsky, the best protection against cirrhosis is to cut down on alcohol consumption.

More Stories from Science News on Health & Medicine