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Coffee defends liver against booze

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Researchers have confirmed drinking coffee can protect against one of the worst effects of alcohol. Alcoholic liver cirrhosis progressively scars the organ, and is known to be affected by a range of factors including smoking, diet, infection and genetics - as well as alcohol.

The team at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Oakland took a survey of more than 125,000 cirrhosis-free patients between 1978 and 1985. Participants were quizzed about their alcohol, coffee and tea consumption and their progress monitored. By 2001, 330 had been diagnosed with the liver disease, of which 199 were alcohol-caused.

For every cup of coffee participants drank each day, the researchers calculate they were 22 per cent less likely to develop alcoholic cirrhosis long term, strengthening earlier findings by the team and an other groups. More info here.

Reporting in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine the authors write: "The data do suggest that coffee intake may partly explain the variability of cirrhosis risk in alcohol consumers." The relationship is buttressed by findings from blood samples, which showed the amount of damage-indicating enzymes released by the liver is less if the patient is a coffee drinker.

Tea has no such protective powers, they found, meaning caffeine may not be responsible for the effect. The team explain: "Previous reports are disparate with respect to whether the apparently protective coffee ingredient is caffeine; in our opinion this issue is quite unresolved."

Drinkers can't expect the effect of a lifetime of heavy boozing to be mitigated by a foamy latte in the morning however. The authors, led by Dr Arthur L. Klatsky, caution: "Even if coffee is protective, the primary approach to reduction of alcoholic cirrhosis is avoidance or cessation of heavy alcohol drinking."®

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