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Coffee Could Be the Secret Weapon Against NAFLD



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Treatment of obesity through exercise and diet is unquestionably the foundation of care for patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)/nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). But drinking at least several cups of coffee a day makes for additional powerful medicine, said Manal F. Abdelmalek, MD, MPH, at the Gastroenterology Updates, IBD, Liver Disease Conference.

"I do recommend at least two to three cups of coffee per day for my patients with NAFLD," said Abdelmalek, professor of medicine and a gastroenterologist at Duke University, Durham, N.C.

Her thinking on this recommendation has been influenced by a meta-analysis of 16 studies including more than 3,000 coffee drinkers and 132,000 nonconsumers; the meta-analysis concluded that coffee drinkers were 39% less likely to develop cirrhosis. There was evidence of a dose-response effect: Consumers of two or more cups daily had a 47% reduction in the risk of cirrhosis, compared with the nondrinkers, while more modest consumption was associated with a 34% reduction. Moreover, the investigators found that coffee consumption was also associated with a 27% reduction in the likelihood of developing advanced hepatic fibrosis, compared with that of non–coffee drinkers.

"What's even more provocative is the evidence that coffee decreases risk of hepatocellular carcinoma," the gastroenterologist said.

She highlighted a U.K. meta-analysis of 18 cohort studies with 2.27 million participants and 2,905 cases, along with 8 case-control studies featuring a collective 1,825 cases and 4,652 controls. The investigators reported that drinking at least two cups of coffee per day was associated with a 35% reduction in the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma independent of a patient's stage of liver disease or the presence or absence of high alcohol consumption, smoking, obesity, type 2 diabetes, or hepatitis B or C infection.

"This is very impressive data and certainly not something you should ignore," according to Abdelmalek.

There is also "fairly strong" data that coffee reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, she continued. The mechanism of these benefits is unclear.

"It's not known if it's caffeine or some other constituent of the bean; a phenol, for example. The story behind tea is not as compelling as for coffee, so it may be something beyond caffeine," according to Abdelmalek.

Session moderator Norah A. Terrault, MD, MPH, noted that drinking at least two cups of coffee per day has also been associated with reduced risk of cirrhosis in patients with hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection. So she too is on board the coffee express.

"I'm also a big proponent of recommending coffee. We take so much away from the patients, it's nice to give them back something, right?" said Terrault, professor of medicine and chief of gastroenterology and liver diseases at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Diet and Exercise

Most of the major gastroenterology professional societies emphasize in their practice guidelines for NAFLD that diet and routine physical activity are mandatory. If sustained, these lifestyle modifications can improve NASH and hepatic fibrosis, as well as reduce the risk of portal hypertension and liver cancer. Abdelmalek counsels her patients to aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate or vigorous aerobic and/or resistance exercise. She doesn't care about the exercise intensity or type, noting that what she considers to be "a beautifully done intervention trial" in 220 patients over the course of 12 months concluded that both moderate and vigorous exercise achieved a significant reduction in intrahepatic triglyceride content.

"Tailor exercise to what patients can do, what they enjoy, and what they can sustain," she advised.

She identifies and addresses all modifiable risk factors for NAFLD, including hypertension, diabetes, abdominal obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, obstructive sleep apnea, and an unhealthy diet high in fat, red meat, and fructose.

"The primary message I tell my patients interested in dieting is: I want you to find the right approach for you. There is no right or wrong answer. For some of my patients, it's intermittent fasting and having their first meal at 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon. For others it's a Weight Watchers approach, or a Mediterranean diet, or it's high protein. The bottom line of my approach is a gravitation away from excess carbohydrates and fats, and beyond that if I can achieve weight loss through caloric restriction or intermittent fasting, I try to tailor that to my patients' preferences. I do send them to nutritionists," the gastroenterologist said.

A 7%-10% weight loss has been shown to result in resolution of NASH in 64%-90% of patients. However, only about 10% of patients who achieve clinically meaningful weight loss short term are able to maintain it at 1 year, so ongoing follow-up is essential

At present there is no FDA-approved therapy for NAFLD/NASH. Beyond diet and exercise – and coffee – there is the option of antiobesity weight-loss drug therapy, which is about as effective as successful lifestyle modification, and bariatric surgery, which is dramatically effective. French surgeons recently reported in a prospective single-center study of 180 severely obese patients with NASH who underwent bariatric surgery that, at 5 years' follow-up, 84% of them had resolution of NASH with no worsening of liver fibrosis. Indeed, 63% of patients with mild fibrosis at baseline experienced complete resolution of their fibrosis at follow-up, as did 46% of those with more severe baseline bridging fibrosis.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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