Coffee good for some cirrhosis patients: Study

Singapore researchers say two cups a day enough to cut risk of dying

Coffee contains chemicals that have a protective effect on the liver, but does not help people with viral hepatitis-related cirrhosis.
Coffee contains chemicals that have a protective effect on the liver, but does not help people with viral hepatitis-related cirrhosis.ST PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO

That morning cup of coffee could help save your life.

Sufferers of certain forms of liver cirrhosis can reduce their chances of dying by 66 per cent by drinking at least two cups of coffee a day, a new study by a Singapore team claims.

More than 63,000 local Chinese people were surveyed on their dietary and lifestyle habits between 1993 and 1998, and researchers kept tabs on the group for nearly 15 years before tabulating the results.

Cirrhosis - or scarring of the liver - is usually caused by alcohol, fatty liver disease or the hepatitis B virus.

In the study, coffee consumption did not significantly lower the risk of death in people with viral hepatitis-related cirrhosis.

However, those with cirrhosis caused by alcohol or fatty liver disease saw their risk of death drop dramatically with frequent coffee drinking.

Cirrhosis develops differently in each case, said lead researcher Koh Woon Puay of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School.

However, it is not the caffeine in coffee that makes a difference. The researchers say the drink contains active chemicals that have a protective effect on the liver.

Tea, fruit juice and soft drinks were found to have no impact.

The results of the study were published in international journal Hepatology in February.

Viral hepatitis remains the leading cause of cirrhosis in Singapore, although the exact figures are not known. Over the years, however, the overall number of hepatitis B cases has dropped due to the nationwide vaccination programme. About 3 per cent of Singapore's population currently suffers from hepatitis B.

But cirrhosis caused by other factors is likely to rise "due to the increase in prevalence of obesity, diabetes and alcohol consumption in this region", said Dr Koh, who is also with the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

Fatty liver disease is related to diabetes and obesity and currently affects an estimated 15 per cent of the population in Asia.

"There is no good treatment option for chronic liver disease, especially if it is unrelated to chronic viral hepatitis," Dr Koh said.

"Hence, there is a need to identify potential therapeutic agents that may retard the disease process."