1Toronto Western Hospital Liver Center, Toronto, ON, M5G 2M9, Canada.
2Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, AR, USA.
Evidence demonstrating that regular ingestion of coffee has salutary effects on patients with chronic liver disease is accumulating rapidly. Specifically, it appears that coffee ingestion can slow the progression of liver fibrosis, preventing cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). This should excite clinicians and scientists alike, since these observations, if true, would create effective, testable hypotheses that should lead to improved understanding on fibrosis pathogenesis and thus may generate novel pharmacologic treatments of patients with chronic liver disease. This review is designed to examine the relevant clinical and epidemiological data in critical fashion and to examine the putative pharmacological effects of coffee relevant to the pathogenesis of liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. We hope that this will inspire relevant critical analyses, especially among "coffee skeptics". Of note, one major assumption made by this review is that the bulk of the effects of coffee consumption are mediated by caffeine, rather than by other chemical constituents of coffee. Our rationales for this assumption are threefold: first, caffeine's effects on adenosinergic signaling provide testable hypotheses; second, although there are myriad chemical constituents of coffee, they are present in very low concentrations, and perhaps more importantly, vary greatly between coffee products and production methods (it is important to note that we do not dismiss the "botanical" hypothesis here; rather, we do not emphasize it at present due to the limitations of the studies examined); lastly, some (but not all) observational studies have examined both coffee and non-coffee caffeine consumption and found consistent effects, and when examined, no benefit to decaffeinated coffee has been observed. Further, in the interval since we examined this phenomenon last, further evidence has accumulated supporting caffeine as the effector molecule for coffee's salutary effects.