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Is Coffee Liver’s Firewall?

The research is rampant with evidence about coffee’s protective effects on the liver. Numerous studies from around the world have come to the same conclusion – coffee somehow shields the liver from inflammatory damage and the diseases that can result.

Over the last decade, researchers have found that coffee reduces the risk of chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, fibrosis and liver cancer. Reduced risk of liver disease also carries through for higher risk individuals, such as those with diabetes, iron overload, obesity, viral hepatitis and high alcohol consumption. Researchers also found that coffee reduces the risk of liver cancer, including among those with risk factors such as pre-existing cirrhosis or hepatitis.

To boil complex chemistry down to a simple analogy, coffee appears to act as a “firewall” that blocks an enzyme implicated in liver disease. The name – alanine aminotransferase – may be hard to pronounce, but the impact appears clear. And, the compound in coffee that seems to deliver the punch is a strong antioxidant called chlorogenic acid.

Fatty Liver Disease
The latest study on the subject is a review paper from scientists in Turkey. Scouring the literature, the researchers confirm that coffee intake appears to reduce the risk of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Metabolic Syndrome (MetS), a condition that can lead to NAFLD.

All of the literature was in agreement – there is an inverse relationship between coffee intake and NAFLD. That means coffee consumption is linked to reducing the risk for the development of NAFLD. The preponderance of evidence also found that coffee reduces the risk of MetS.

As for the source of the protection, the scientists cited coffee’s strong antioxidant properties. In fact, several coffee components appear to scavenge free radicals, which in turn could contribute to the development of NAFLD. However, the researchers also cite an independent protective effect on the liver delivered by caffeine.

Complex Chemistry
In presenting their findings, the researchers noted that coffee is a very complex beverage made up of about 1,500 components. They include many antioxidants and other physiologically active compounds. It’s a long list that includes phenolic polymers, polysaccharides, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, cafestol, kahweol, and minerals. Interestingly, caffeine accounts for just 1% of what’s in the brew.

So, the next time you have that morning mug of coffee, you’ll know you’re sipping a complex beverage that may pack a powerful punch of protection for your liver. Is your firewall engaged?

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