For some people that morning cup of Joe is the perfect way to start the day. Surprisingly, there are many published studies that show that caffeinated coffee can improve the health of the liver and provide other health benefits. There are some caveats to these health claims that I will discuss at the end of this article.
First let’s talk about the good news—the possible health benefits:

Liver Fibrosis / HCV Disease Progression: In a review of 177 patients—121 patients with HCV who drank about 2 ¼ cups of coffee a day were found to have reduced levels of liver fibrosis. The results were only found in those who drank caffeinated coffee.

In another review, 766 participants in the Hepatitis C Antiviral Long-Term Treatment against Cirrhosis (HALT-C) trial found more good news. Those who had hepatitis C-related bridging fibrosis or cirrhosis on a liver biopsy and who failed to achieve a cure after being treated with pegylated interferon and ribavirin therapy also yielded some surprising results. Those with advanced liver disease who regularly consumed coffee were found to have lower rates of HCV disease progression.

Liver Cancer: A small study found that people who drank one to three cups of coffee a day had a 29% lower risk of developing liver cancer compared to those who drank 6 cups or less a week. Another study which reviewed 16 different studies involving over 3,200 patients found that drinking more than 3 cups of coffee a day might cut the risk of liver cancer by up to 50%.

Other Conditions: There are many studies that show a link between the reduction or prevention of certain types of cancers and drinking caffeinated coffee (skin, breast, colon, prostate, uterine, oral). There are also studies that show that caffeinated coffee can lower the risk of diabetes and death.

The Downside: Now, I am going to burst the bubble!  Coffee, specifically caffeine, is a drug (a stimulant). Moreover, with any drug you can have withdrawal: It can take more than eight weeks to withdraw entirely from caffeine—although, caffeine withdrawal is usually just an annoying headache and some light fatigue.

Drinking or consuming caffeine can raise blood pressure, lead to heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats), can cause cramps, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal health issues. If you drink it too close to bedtime, it can cause insomnia. Too much caffeine can cause depression, anxiety and other types of nervous behaviors. Although rare there have been serious health consequences from people drinking energy drinks and shots.

Examples of the typical amount of caffeine:

  • *Coffee – 100 mg per cup
  • Tea – 14 mg to 60 mg per cup
  • Chocolate – 45 mg in 1.5 oz barMost colas (unless they are labeled “caffeine-free”) – 45 mg in 12 oz. drink
  • Candies, energy drinks, snacks, gum – 40-100 mg per serving

*Source: Medline

There are many other side effects of caffeine, but I will stop here.  However, for most people caffeine in moderation is safe and well-tolerated!

Final Thoughts: What does all of this mean?  It is hard to draw concrete conclusions from these studies because you cannot measure what people drink, how it is made and what chemicals are in the coffee.  However, there must be something in caffeinated coffee that is contributing to all of these positive outcomes. There are over 1,000 natural chemicals in coffee, and some of these chemicals may be contributing to the caffeine and providing these benefits.  Scientists are studying the various chemicals, and we may soon have more concrete information that may lead the way to more potent medications to treat many conditions.  In the meantime, it could not hurt to have a cup of Joe—that is if your health allows it.

This article is reprinted from the April 15, 2015 HCV Advocate, mid-month edition. Copyright 2015 with permission from the HCV Advocate and Alan Franciscus.