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Drinking Coffee Slows Progression of Hepatitis C


Patients with chronic hepatitis C and advanced liver disease who drink three or more cups of coffee per day have a 53% lower risk of liver disease progression than non-coffee drinkers according to a new study that will be published in the November issue of the Journal Heptatology.

The study, led by Neal Freedman, Ph.D., MPH, from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), included 766 participants enrolled in the Hepatitis C Antiviral Long-Term Treatment against Cirrhosis clinical trial (HALT-C). Patients had hepatitis C-related bridging fibrosis (a degree of disease that is close to end-stage liver disease) or cirrhosis and failed to respond to standard treatment. Each participant completed a survey of their typical frequency of coffee and tea intake.

Follow-up was conducted every 3 months during the nearly 4-year study period. Clinical outcomes were assessed, including ascites (abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdomen), prognosis of chronic liver disease, hepatic encephalopathy (brain and nervous system damage), liver cancer, spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, variceal hemorrhage, or increase in fibrosis. Liver biopsies were also taken twice during the study.

Participants who drank 3 or more cups of coffee per day had a decreased risk of one of the clincial outcomes assessed. There was no observed association between tea intake and liver disease progression.

This is not the first study to link coffee consumption with a reduction in liver disease. Kaiser Permanente studied 125,000 people with healthy livers from 1978 to 1985 and found that the incidence of cirrhosis from alcohol consumption was reduced by 22% for each cup of coffee consumed. The findings were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in June 2006.

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The mechanism by which coffee protects liver function is unclear. Coffee and caffeine intake are associated with the normalization of several liver enzymes that cause tissue damage and may prevent carcinogenesis.

The hepatitis C virus is the leading cause of chronic liver disease. According to statistics from the American Liver Foundation, more than 4 million Americans are infected. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 3 to 4 million persons contract HCV each year with 70% becoming chronic cases that can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

Hepatitis C is trasmitted through contact with contaminated blood and blood products and from sexual exposure to an infected partner. Pregnant women can transmit the virus to the fetus. HCV is not transmitted by touching, kissing, sharing of eating utensils or breastfeeding.

"Given the large number of people affected by HCV it is important to identify modifiable risk factors associated with the progression of liver disease," said Dr. Freedman. "Although we cannot rule out a possible role for other factors that go along with drinking coffee, results from our study suggest that patients with high coffee intake had a lower risk of disease progression." Results from this study should not be generalized to healthier populations cautioned the authors.

October is Liver Awareness Month. In April 2009, the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases released updated practice guidelines for the diagnosis, management and treatment of Hepatitis C.

Sources Include: American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American Liver Foundation, and the American Gastroenterological Association