Coffee, Tea or Fatty Liver

Coffee, Tea or Fatty Liver

By: Holly L. Thacker, MD • Posted on September 22, 2013

What Does Your Liver Really Do?

As an organ, the liver doesn’t get a lot of love. The brain is dazzling, the heart is well the heart and the intestines (“trust your gut”) get more respect. If you want to refer to someone as a coward, you might call them “lily-livered.”

Let’s hear it for your liver! The organ that works hard daily to metabolize, process, detoxify and store nutrients. Though, it is a frequently, overlooked metabolic work horse.

The liver has the following functions:

  • Stores glycogen (a sugar)
  • Involved in protein synthesis
  • Metabolizes medications and hormones
  • Plays an important role in detoxification
  • Produces bile, which aids in digestion

Treat Your Liver Well

The liver is a very versatile organ that has regenerative capacity, but can be insulted with toxins, especially;

  • Alcohol
  • Viruses, such as hepatitis A, B and C
  • Medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) in doses just above the therapeutic range can cause marked liver damage and even death from liver failure

The most pervasive, recent lifestyle toxin is the epidemic of obesity and the excess of calories and fats, which can contribute to fatty liver. Years ago, fatty liver was thought to be a benign condition of excess. However, it is NOT benign, as up to 1 in 6 women with fatty liver, especially people with diabetes can develop NASH (Non-Alcoholic Steato-Hepatitis), meaning that the fat is irritating the liver and can cause damage, scarring, and the dreaded cirrhosis. The most common cause of cirrhosis is from alcohol. However, fat-related liver damage is on the rise.

Cirrhosis is permanent. It can eventually lead to full blown liver failure. Women who are regular, heavy drinkers of alcohol are more likely to develop cirrhosis. One does not have to be an “alcoholic” to develop cirrhosis. Daily, social drinking can do it. Autoimmune conditions like PBC (primary biliary cirrhosis) occurs more commonly in women. Storage overload conditions like hemochromatosis (from excess iron) and Wilson’s disease (copper metabolism problem) also can damage the liver.

Fatty liver can be caused by:

  • Alcohol
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Lipid abnormalities
  • Gastric bypass
  • Iron overload
  • Hepatitis C

Treatment includes:

  • Removing offending agents
  • Losing weight
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Ingesting a healthy diet free of trans-fats
  • Ingesting vitamin E (an anti-oxidant) under a physician’s supervision
  • Ingesting healthy fats like Omega 3s in foods
  • Daily exercise
  • Treating diabetes and lipid disorders

Milk thistle tea that contains Silymarin may have some liver protectant properties for lowering inflammation. Although, individuals should not drink more than 2-3 cups of milk thistle tea in one day.

How Caffeine Can Help Your Liver

The most recent good news is that caffeine may reduce fatty liver in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease published in the Journal of Hepatology.

Coffee and tea are frequently consumed beverages that contain caffeine, and caffeine appears to stimulate the metabolism of fats stored in liver cells. Caffeine is one of the world’s most commonly ingested substances. It is a stimulant with numerous effects.

So don’t be lily-livered! Eat right, exercise and avoid weight gain and fatty liver risks. Be careful with alcohol and medication consumption. If you are a baby boomer, inquire about hepatitis C testing with your physician. And go ahead and enjoy that morning cup of java or green tea and a mid-afternoon milk thistle tea with some dark chocolate!

Be Strong. Be Healthy. Be in Charge!

-Holly L. Thacker, M.D.

Holly L. Thacker, MD, FACP is nationally known for her leadership in women’s health. She is the founder of the Cleveland Clinic Women’s Health Fellowship and is currently the Professor and Director of the Center for Specialized Women’s Health at Cleveland Clinic and Lerner College of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Thacker is also the Executive Director of Speaking of Women’s Health and the author of The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause. Her special interests and areas of research include menopause and related medical problems including osteoporosis, hormone therapy, breast cancer risk assessment, menstrual disorders, female sexual dysfunction and interdisciplinary women’s health.

Related Articles