Could Coffee Save Your Liver?

By Chrisanne Grise 03/28/13

A Finnish study suggests coffee may "protect" your liver from booze, if you're a man.

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Heavy coffee consumption may help prevent liver disease for alcohol drinkers of the male persuasion, according to a new study from Finland. Researchers studied nearly 19,000 men and women between ages 25 and 74, and found that men who drank more than 24 alcoholic beverages a week (about 3.5 drinks a day) had the highest levels of the liver enzyme gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT), which can lead to alcoholic liver disease. But those who also consumed five or more cups of coffee per day had a 50% reduction in the enzyme, compared to men who abstained from coffee. There was no significant relationship found between coffee and GGT levels in female drinkers. "Our findings suggest a possible protective effect for coffee intake in alcohol consumers," says study researcher Dr. Onni Niemelä, of Seinäjoki Central Hospital and the University of Tampere. But experts warn male drinkers not to jump to the conclusion that a coffee habit will compensate for the potential health dangers of a booze habit. "The findings are thought-provoking," says Dr. David Bernstein, of North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, "[but] it is impossible to derive meaning from them." The study did not account for smoking, old age, or body weight, which can also increase GGT levels. And there's always the possibility that the participants inaccurately estimated their booze and coffee intake. Before you rush to dump Kahlua in your morning cup of joe, Bernstein adds: “We know nothing about whether decreasing levels of the liver enzyme leads to improvements in overall health, or a decreased risk of liver disease."

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Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices, AbsolutePunk.net, Chorus.fm, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.