Germs such as hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infect and injure the liver. Long-term or chronic infection with either of these viruses can cause inflammation and healthy liver tissue is replaced with useless scar tissue. Prolonged increased levels of liver enzymes in the blood occur, suggestive of ongoing liver injury. Gradually the liver becomes increasingly dysfunctional and serious complications develop. As liver injury spreads throughout this organ, the risk of some liver cells developing abnormally and transforming into pre-cancer and cancer increases.
Testing for HCV infection and regular medical monitoring and discussion of treatment options among infected people are important steps. Successful treatment for HCV can cure this viral infection, normalize liver enzyme levels and greatly reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.
Coffee and chocolate research
Coffee and chocolate (as well as many colourful fruits and vegetables) contain compounds called flavonols. In laboratory experiments with cells, these compounds can help reduce inflammation.
In the past decade, results from observational studies suggest that regular consumption of coffee appears to benefit the liver. Different studies have reported different but related findings, such as decreased levels of liver enzymes, reduced scarring of the liver and even a lowered risk for developing liver cancer.
A recent observational study in France suggests that daily consumption of coffee and chocolate is associated with having normal liver enzyme levels in participants who were co-infected with HIV and HCV.
It is important to note that many of the promising findings reported from coffee drinking and its impact on liver health come from observational studies. Such studies are good at finding associations but can never prove cause and effect. In other words, observational studies can never prove that drinking coffee leads to improved liver health. This problem with observational studies arises from built-in design limitations.
Therefore, findings from observational studies must be treated cautiously. Ideally such findings should be explored in clinical trials of a more robust statistical design.
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