Throwing back a few too many cocktails or glasses of wine may be an occupational hazard during the holidays, but as it turns out, one of the best hangover solutions may actually help repair your liver.
Researchers have found that coffee, long a requirement for any morning-after breakfast, can actually reduce the risk of alcohol-related liver cirrhosis by 44 percent.
An analysis published in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics examined nine studies with more than 430,000 participants and found that just two cups of coffee a day was correlated with a significant reduction in the type of liver scarring caused by alcohol use.
Further, the more cups of coffee the participants consumed, the lower their risk of both developing cirrhosis and dying from it. For participants who drank three cups of coffee per day, the risk was reduced by 57 percent; for four cups, 65 percent.
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"Coffee appeared to protect against cirrhosis," said study author O. J. Kennedy. "This could be an important finding for patients at risk of cirrhosis to help to improve their health outcomes.
Liver cirrhosis is is diagnosed in 15 to 30 percent of heavy drinkers, defined in the U.S. as men who drink 15+ alcoholic beverages a week and women who drink more than eight. Exposing the liver to large amounts of alcohol over long periods of time stiffens the organ’s blood vessels and causes structural damage, greatly reducing or even eliminating its ability to filter toxins. This can eventually lead to body-wide organ failure and fatal infections.
The researchers weren’t sure exactly how coffee mitigated liver damage.
“Coffee is a complex mixture containing hundreds of chemical compounds, and it is unknown which of these is responsible for protecting the liver,” Kennedy said.
It was also not clear from the study what kind of coffee beans or preparation method provided the most benefit, although for unknown reasons a stronger relationship was found with filtered coffee rather than boiled coffee.
In 2017, a separate study published in the Journal of Hepatology corroborated the original results, finding that among 2,400 people age 45 and older living in the Netherlands, coffee consumption was significantly associated with less scarring of liver tissue, even when controlling for other lifestyle factors.
However, the Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics researchers were quick to point out that, despite the findings, coffee’s benefits could only do so much in the face of long-term benders and poor health choices.
“Unfortunately, although coffee contains compounds that have antioxidant effects and anti-inflammatory properties, drinking a few cups of coffee a day cannot undo the systematic damage that is the result of being overweight or obese, sedentary, excessive alcohol consumption or drastically mitigate an unhealthy diet,” said Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York.