Coffee, Herbal Tea Could Protect Against Liver Fibrosis

Frequent intake of coffee or herbal tea was found to lower the risk of liver stiffness.

Chronic liver disease leads to numerous deaths worldwide and is the 12th leading cause of mortality. A large majority of liver diseases are the result of an unhealthy lifestyle and can be prevented or reversed with healthier activities. Mortality resulting from liver disease is linked to the development of cirrhosis, which is the final stage of fibrosis.

Findings from a study published by the Journal of Hepatology suggest that drinking coffee and herbal tea may prevent liver fibrosis, which is caused by scarring and inflammation. Since the beverages are widely consumed and inexpensive, the authors believe that they can easily be used to prevent late-stage liver disease.

"Over the past decades, we gradually deviated towards more unhealthy habits, including a sedentary lifestyle, decreased physical activity, and consumption of a 'Happy Diet'," said lead author Louise J. M. Alferink, MD.

According to the study, the Happy Diet, also known as the Western diet, is high in processed foods, unhealthy fats, sugars, and red meats.

“This has led not only to an obesity epidemic, but also to a rapid increase in the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is due to extensive accumulation of fat in the liver and resembles alcoholic liver disease in people who do not exceed 2 drinks a day of alcohol,” Dr Alferink said. “In this context, examining accessible and inexpensive lifestyle strategies that have potential health benefits, such as coffee and tea consumption, is a viable approach to finding ways to halt the rapid increase of liver disease in developed countries."

Previous studies show that coffee consumption can be beneficial for health and may even reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Additional studies suggest that coffee may benefit the liver.

"There is quite some epidemiological, but also experimental data suggesting that coffee has health benefits on liver enzyme elevations, viral hepatitis, NAFLD, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Beyond the liver, coffee has been demonstrated to be inversely associated with overall mortality in the general population,” said principal investigator Sarwa Darwish Murad, MD, PhD. “The exact mechanism is unknown but it is thought that coffee exerts anti-oxidant effects. We were curious to find out whether coffee consumption would have a similar effect on liver stiffness measurements in individuals without chronic liver disease."

Included in the study were data from 2424 patients who were participating in the Rotterdam study. All patients received a physical work-up, including data collection for anthropometrics, blood sampling, hepatological imaging, and Fibroscan, which measures liver stiffness, according to the study.

Patients also filled out a food frequency questionnaire that included information about consumption of coffee and tea.

Coffee and tea consumption was divided into 3 groups: none, moderate (0 to 3 cups per day), and frequent (more than 3 cups per day). Tea consumption was also categorized by type: herbal, green, or black.

The authors found that frequent coffee drinkers had a lower risk of high liver stiffness values, even after accounting for lifestyle, metabolic, and environmental traits, according to the study.

When exploring a range of liver stiffness values, the authors reported that frequent coffee or herbal tea consumption was linked to lower values.

Although no direct association was found between coffee or tea consumption and NAFLD, the effect of coffee on reducing liver stiffness was significant in patients with and without NAFLD, according to the study. The authors concluded that coffee and tea intake would be beneficial in preventing liver scarring prior to the development of liver disease.

However, the study was conducted in an elderly Caucasian population with few who abstained from coffee or tea, which limits the ability to form a conclusion. Additional research is necessary to determine the potentially protective effects of the beverages, according to the study.

“Before this policy can be recommended, prospective studies are needed to identify the optimum amounts and the type(s) of coffee and tea leading to more favorable liver outcomes,” the authors concluded.