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Drinking a cup of coffee daily can help reduce liver cancer risk

People who drink coffee every day are less likely to develop liver cancer, according to a recent review. Published in Gastroenterology & Hepatology, it revealed that people who drink at least one cup of coffee a day have a 20 percent reduced risk of liver cancer than those who do not drink coffee at all. Although less potent, decaffeinated coffee was also shown to have protective effects against liver cancer.

Fast facts on liver cancer

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of liver cancer. In the U.S. alone, about 33,000 people get liver cancer each year, and about 27,000 people die from the disease. Despite advancements in prevention techniques, HCC remains a public health problem worldwide due to its severely high mortality rate.

It tends to occur most often in people who have liver conditions like hepatitis, a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis virus. HCC risk is also high in people with cirrhosis, a serious condition in which liver functions are compromised due to irreversible organ damage. HCC risk is also influenced by factors linked to diet and nutrition, such as excessive alcohol consumption and high sugar intake, both of which can lead to fatty liver disease.

Because HCC impairs vital liver functions, people with HCC tend to have enlarged abdomens and yellow skin and/or eyes. These indicate that the liver is inflamed and that it cannot properly filter blood and rid the body of toxins. Other symptoms of HCC include sudden weight loss, loss of appetite, chronic abdominal pain, nausea, fatigue and white stool.

Conventional treatment for HCC involves invasive methods like surgery, liver transplant and chemotherapy. However, liver cancer in any form is difficult to cure since it spreads quickly and causes irreversible damage to the liver. It is also often difficult to detect serious liver conditions like HCC in its early stages when it is most treatable. (Related: Protect your liver with whole grains: Study finds they reduce the risk of liver cancer.)

A cup of coffee each day reduces HCC risk by 20 percent

A team of researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Edinburgh found that coffee can significantly reduce the risk of HCC.

To examine the protective effects of coffee, the researchers studied data from 26 studies, which had a total of 2.25 million participants.

Compared to people who did not drink coffee, those who drank at least one cup a day had a 20 percent lower risk of HCC. Meanwhile, those who had two cups a day had a 35 percent reduced risk, while the risk was halved for those who drank up to five cups a day. Although less potent, the researchers found that decaffeinated coffee also had protective effects against HCC.

However, Oliver Kennedy, the lead author of the review, noted that the research does not encourage the excessive consumption of coffee. Despite its wide range of health benefits, caffeine can cause adverse side effects like high blood pressure, indigestion, gout attacks, insomnia and restlessness.

Nevertheless, Kennedy added that the research contributes to the body of evidence that shows how, when consumed in moderation, coffee has medicinal properties and anti-cancer activities. The researchers also suggest that coffee might be a viable lifestyle intervention for the prevention of HCC and other liver conditions.

Another recent study published in the British Journal of Cancer confirmed that coffee consumption was linked to a reduced risk of HCC. The large prospective cohort study analyzed the coffee consumption of 471,779 participants in the UK Biobank, a large long-term health resource that began in 2006.

Upon analysis, researchers from Queen’s University in the U.K. found a reduced risk of HCC in coffee drinkers compared to those who did not drink coffee. Lead author Kim Tu Tran speculated that the antioxidants in coffee might have protective effects against liver cancer. However, the researchers noted that coffee is not as protective against HCC as abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.

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