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Do High Levels of Caffeine Cause Liver Damage?

by
author image Meg Campbell
Based just outside Chicago, Meg Campbell has worked in the fitness industry since 1997. She’s been writing health-related articles since 2010, focusing primarily on diet and nutrition. Campbell divides her time between her hometown and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Do High Levels of Caffeine Cause Liver Damage?
Espresso maker Photo Credit Urs Siedentop/iStock/Getty Images

Weighing an average of four pounds, the liver is your largest internal organ. It plays a vital role in numerous physiological processes, including metabolic function and blood detoxification. Because it’s continually inundated with toxins of both internal and external origin, your liver is more prone to sustaining the type of damage it protects your body from. The liver can regenerate itself, however, by replacing damaged tissue with new, healthy liver tissue. As a precaution, caffeine in high amounts may be damaging in certain people when taken in combination with acetaminophen, according to a 2002 study published in "Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology."

Liver Damage

The liver is a resilient organ. As much as 75 percent of its tissue can be damaged or surgically removed before it no longer functions, according to the website Life Extension. Characterized by the organ’s slow deterioration and malfunction, liver cirrhosis is the 12th leading cause of disease-related death in the United States, according to 2004 statistics provided by the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.

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Causes of Liver Damage

Some common causes of liver damage include chronic, heavy alcohol consumption, hepatitis viral infections and long-term use of medications or herbs that are toxic to the liver. High rates of obesity and diabetes contribute to the increased occurrence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, a condition characterized by fat buildup in the liver. Prolonged exposure to carcinogens, including those found in cigarettes and chemical fumes, can also cause extensive liver damage. Cholestasis and other diseases that damage or destroy the liver’s bile ducts cause liver degeneration through bile buildup. Various types of hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver, occur through blood infection, while autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks liver cells, causing tissue-damaging inflammation. Genetic diseases that interfere with liver function, including Wilson’s disease, cystic fibrosis and galactosemia, are other degenerative conditions that cause chronic liver damage.

Effects of Caffeine

A study in a 2007 issue of "Nigerian Journal of Physiological Sciences" reports that caffeine may suppress liver scarring in patients with chronic liver disease.
The buildup of scar tissue blocks blood flow to the liver, impairing the organ’s ability to function and heal itself. Additionally, a 19-year-long study of just under 10,000 people showed that drinking a moderate amount of caffeine-containing beverages each day significantly reduces your risk of developing chronic liver disease, as noted in a 2005 issue of "Gastroenterology." More specifically, those in the study who drank two or more cups of coffee or tea per day developed chronic liver disease half as often as those who consumed less than a cup a day.

Considerations

Increased caffeine consumption is most beneficial for people who are at high risk for developing chronic liver disease, including those suffering from obesity, heavy alcohol consumption, iron overload and hepatitis B or C. However, increasing your intake of caffeine does not diminish your risk of contracting a liver-damaging virus, such as hepatitis. Further, drinking large amounts of caffeine may be detrimental to liver health when combined with the pain relief medication acetaminophen, according to an October 2007 animal study published in "Chemical Research in Toxicology." The study found that high amounts caffeine worsened the scarring of liver tissue in rats with acetaminophen-induced liver damage.

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