While there's no magic bullet, a new study says that coffee consumption may offer protective benefits for your liver.

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Coffee lovers, rejoice! A recent study published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that high coffee consumption may help protect your liver from chronic disease. According to the study, drinking more than three cups of coffee was associated with less liver stiffness. (FYI: Physicians can assess the progress of chronic liver disease through a noninvasive imaging test called elastography, which measures the "stiffness" of the liver. Stiffness is associated with conditions such as liver inflammation, fibrosis and more.)

The study collected data from 4,510 adults living in the U.S. who were a part of the 2017-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a program of studies that assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the U.S.. Participants were all over 20 years of age and 73% were overweight or obese. All study participants went through dietary analysis.

A coffee cup full of coffee with the shape of a liver in it
Credit: Getty Images / Anastasiia_M / wowwa

Researchers looked at the relationship between consumption of three different beverages (coffee, decaffeinated coffee and tea) and liver stiffness. They found that those who reported drinking three cups of caffeinated coffee each day had lower liver stiffness levels than those who didn't consume any coffee. There was no significant association between liver stiffness measurement and the consumption of decaf coffee or tea.

Additionally, the study says that coffee consumption did not impact the onset of fatty liver disease. People with higher liver stiffness are more prone to liver cirrhosis, a type of chronic liver disease that causes the organ to lose the ability to function and heal itself.

It is important to note that the researchers removed any sugar-sweetened coffee or tea from the results, as sweetened drinks actually led to greater liver stiffness. "Over-consuming sugar can lead to inflammation throughout the body. For most Americans, sugar-sweetened beverages are the top source of added sugar in their diets," explains EatingWell's associate nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball. "This doesn't mean you can't add any sweetness to your coffee or tea if you like it, just be mindful about how much you are adding and maybe gradually try to reduce your intake."

This study is the most comprehensive look at coffee's connection to liver health because it used two 24-hour dietary recalls, where participants were asked what they ate and drank during a 24-hour period. According to the study's authors, "In the absence of randomized trials, these cross-sectional, nationally representative data using direct measures of liver health and gold standard dietary inventories provide some of the strongest possible evidence for this association."

The bottom line? While coffee has plenty of health benefits including boosting liver health, drinking a few cups a day isn't a magic bullet. For optimal liver health, you'll want to eat a healthy diet (and incorporate these good-for-your-liver foods), cut back on drinking and get plenty of exercise.