This morning, as I drank my morning cup of coffee – yes, I do drink one to two partial cups a day – I was reminded that coffee may benefit our patients being treated for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection.
We teach our patients with liver disease that they must pay attention to foods and drinks that can harm their liver. The lion’s share of attention rightfully goes to how important it is to nix alcohol. But what about coffee, one of the world’s most popular drinks?
Several reports have come out over the past few years about the benefits of coffee in general, such as studies showing a link between drinking coffee and a lower risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, colon cancer, and gallstones. One study even found that coffee drinkers may live a little longer than those who don’t drink coffee.[i]
Patients being treated for HCV will be interested in some great health news about coffee from this month’s issue of the journal Gastroenterology.[ii]A retrospective study compared coffee drinkers to non-drinkers and tracked their treatment success. The coffee drinkers, who drank three or more cups each day, had a statistically different response to standard therapy (meaning peginterferon plus ribavirin treatment), which was about two times the sustained viral response (SVR) of that seen in non-coffee drinkers. Hopefully this study will be repeated with coffee drinkers using the new triple therapy now that the FDA has approved two new protease inhibitors.
What accounts for the better treatment outcomes in coffee drinkers? For starters, it is well-known that coffee lowers liver enzymes and slows the progression of pre-existing liver diseases and liver cancer. In hepatitis C, there are high levels of the liver enzyme alanine aminotransferase, which can promote liver damage. By reducing this enzyme, coffee helps preserve liver function.
I recommend that HCV patients who drink coffee continue to enjoy this beverage when they start treatment. One potential side effect of HCV treatment is extreme fatigue, which the caffeine in coffee can counteract. So in addition to promoting healthier liver enzymes, coffee also helps patients feel alert and awake. In other words, you get to feel better while you are getting better.
To the delight of coffee lovers everywhere, the evidence clearly shows that it’s okay to drink coffee during your HCV treatment regimen.
[i] Lopez-Garcia E, van Dam RM, Li TY, et al. The relationship of coffee consumption with mortality. Annals Intern Med 2008;148(12):904-14.
[ii] Freedman ND, Curto TM, Lindsay KL, et al. Coffee consumption is associated with response to peginterferon and ribavirin therapy in patients with chronic hepatitis C. Gastroenterology 2011 June;140(7):1961-9.