Coffee drinking may improve liver health in those with type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes can be a 'devastating diagnosis' says expert

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Drinking coffee is associated with a reduced risk of liver complications in overweight people with type 2 diabetes, a study has concluded. Both caffeine and the plant micronutrients known as “polyphenols” also found in coffee may help to reduce the severity of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The study builds on the findings of previous research that found that drinking coffee in moderation can also help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the first place.

A common complication of type 2 diabetes, NAFLD is an umbrella term for various disorders of the liver caused by the accumulation of fat. This can lead to scarring and even cancer.

As with type 2 diabetes, NAFLD is often the result of a high-calorie diet and an unhealthy lifestyle.

Despite the risk factors for NAFLD being almost entirely preventable, it is estimated that as many as one-in-three UK adults have the early stage of the disease.

And as many as one-in-15 people in the UK are living with diabetes and 13.6million people at risk of developing the type 2 version of the chronic health condition.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas is unable to make enough insulin — the hormone that controls the levels of glucose in the blood — or the insulin that it produces doesn’t work properly.

It can cause symptoms including excessive thirst, frequent urination and tiredness, and can lead to complications from heart disease and stroke to foot problems and blindness.

Previous research has indicated that drinking a moderate amount of coffee daily — defined by the European Food Safety Authority as three–five cups — can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 25 percent.

The findings of the new study, however, suggest that the health benefits of drinking coffee may go further still.

The investigation was undertaken by cell biologist Dr John Griffith Jones of the University of Coimbra, Portugal, and his colleagues.

Dr Jones said: “Due to changes in modern diet and lifestyle, there is an increase in obesity rates and incidence of both type 2 diabetes and NAFLD.”

This, he added, “can ultimately develop into more severe and irreversible conditions, burdening healthcare systems.

“Our research is the first to observe that higher cumulative amounts of both caffeine and non-caffeine metabolites in urine are associated with a reduced severity of NAFLD in overweight people with type 2 diabetes.”

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In their study, the team surveyed 156 middle-aged and borderline obese adults — of whom 98 had type 2 diabetes — about their routine coffee intake.

Participants also provided urine samples over a 24-hour period, allowing the researchers to measure level of both caffeine and non-caffeine metabolites.

These, the team explained, are the natural products that are formed when the body breaks down coffee.

Analysing these metabolites allowed for more precise, quantitative data on each participant’s coffee consumption than relying on self-reporting alone.

Dr Jones and his colleagues found that those subjects who had a higher coffee intake tended to have healthier livers.

Furthermore, those with higher urine caffeine levels were seen to be less likely to have liver fibrosis, while higher levels of non-caffeine metabolites were significantly associated with lower fatty liver index scores.

According to the researchers, coffee components like polyphenols help to reduce oxidative stress in the liver — reducing the risk of scarring and improving glucose maintenance in both healthy and overweight subjects.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nutrients.

The research was supported by the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee, which is “devoted to sharing balanced science around coffee and health”.

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