A recent study suggests that caffeinated drinks may be good for your liver. The study, published in the journal Hepatology, showed that drinking two to four cups of coffee or tea a day may help prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that may affect up to 46% of Americans.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common liver disorder in industrialized Western countries, and rates of it are increasing. NAFLD is caused by the buildup of fatty deposits in the liver, and over time it may progress to chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. Researchers have not been able to determine what leads to NAFLD, but insulin resistance is thought to play a significant role.
NAFLD is usually diagnosed in middle age. Though it is often asymptomatic, some people may experience fatigue or vague upper right abdominal discomfort, or may have elevated liver enzymes on routine blood tests. Risk factors include obesity, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. There is currently no cure for NAFLD, so much attention has been focused on preventing and delaying progression of the disease.
Researchers in the new study discovered that in mice and human cells, caffeine increased fat oxidation in the liver and stimulated liver cells to eliminate extra fat stores, slowing progression of NAFLD. This supports the findings of other small studies that have correlated caffeine intake with a lower risk of NAFLD in humans. Because there are currently no medications approved to treat NAFLD, the researchers hope that this new discovery will help lead to novel caffeine-based treatments for the condition.