Millions throughout the world start their day with coffee, but as a bonus for alcoholics, it also has the potential to undo liver damage. As part of ongoing research for the Continuous Update Project, London-based scientists from the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF) have taken a closer look at the alternative powers of coffee. They found alcoholics and others who regularly abuse alcohol, such as binge drinkers, could lower their risk of liver cancer by supplementing with high levels of coffee consumption every day.

Those who drink three or more alcoholic drinks a day significantly increase their risk of developing liver cancer, according to a summary of the team's findings and a long history of research to back up the link between alcohol consumption and liver cancer. The National Cancer Institute has found long-term alcohol use is linked to an increased risk of liver cancer, especially when it leads to liver inflammation from regular, heavy alcohol consumption. But coffee may alleviate some of that risk, according to findings from WCRF’s recently released Liver Cancer 2015 report.

"Mechanisms that support a protective effect of coffee on liver cancer relate largely to studies in animals, although some human studies contribute to the evidence," the authors wrote. "Both coffee and coffee extracts have also been shown to reduce the expression of genes involved in inflammation, and the effects appear to be most pronounced in the liver.”

Researchers analyzed 34 scientific studies with data compiled from eight million men and women with 24,600 cases of liver cancer. They found those who drank about three alcoholic drinks a day benefited from regular coffee consumption to the point of diminishing liver damage and ultimately lowering their risk of liver cancer. Even though the protective link coffee provides is evident in the findings, researchers still aren’t clear as to how coffee has an anti-cancer effect. In 2012, 746,000 people died from liver cancer worldwide, making it the second deadliest type of cancer in any country, according to the study.

It turns out the aflatoxins, which are a type of mold found in alcohol, also increase the risk of liver cancer and can even lead to liver failure in high concentrations, according to a study in the journal Environmental Health Perspective. Not only is alcohol a danger to the liver but also food laced with aflatoxin mold. Coffee may be able to curb the damage from foods contaminated by the mold as well.

"Aflatoxins are produced by inadequate storage of food and are generally an issue related to foods from warmer, developing regions of the world," WCRF researchers wrote in the report. "Foods that may be affected by aflatoxins include cereals, spices, peanuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, chilies, black pepper, dried fruit, and figs."

Source: Diet, nutrition, physical activity, and liver cancer. Continuous Update Project. 2015.