Good news for java junkies: For the first time, a report from an ongoing systematic review of global research finds that drinking coffee lowers risk for liver cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide.
In partnership with the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), World Cancer Research Fund International’s Continuous Update Project (CUP) released the report Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Liver Cancer on March 25th. It is the most in-depth review to date of global research linking diet, physical activity, and weight to the risk of developing liver cancer.
AICR now estimates that being at a healthy weight and avoiding alcohol could prevent almost one-third (30 percent) of U.S. liver cancers every year – approximately 10,700 cases.
Here are the report’s key take-aways:
Obesity Ups Risk
The new report founds strong evidence linking being overweight or obese to increased risk for liver cancer. With today’s report, liver cancer becomes the tenth cancer to be strongly associated with overweight and obesity.
“The evidence on obesity and cancer is only getting stronger,” said Stephen Hursting, Ph.D., M.P.H., researcher at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and one of the CUP expert panelists. “We’re looking at a tsunami of obesity-related cancer coming. People really need to be aware of this issue and we need more research on weight loss strategies and understanding the mechanisms so that we can break this connection.”
New Insights into Alcohol
The report reaffirms the clear link between drinking alcohol and liver cancer, and for the first time quantifies the amount at which risk for liver cancer rises. “We now have a little more precision on the alcohol-liver cancer link,” said Hursting. “Getting above three drinks a day seems to dramatically impact the tumorigenic process and increase risk.”
Experts at AICR were quick to note, however, that lower levels of alcohol increase risk for other cancers, including breast and esophageal. AICR recommends women limit themselves to one drink per day and men to two drinks per day.
The Coffee Connection
The new report’s finding that coffee protects against liver cancer follows a 2013 CUP report that found coffee to be protective against endometrial cancer. Coffee contains a variety of naturally occurring compounds that are currently being studied for their anti-cancer potential.
“It may act on liver enzymes that eliminate carcinogens, for example,” said Hursting. Because coffee is consumed in such a variety of ways, however, it is not yet possible to determine the amount or style of preparation that provides optimal protection.
Promising Findings Re: Activity, Fish
The CUP report also uncovers intriguing indications that both physical activity and fish consumption may decrease the risk of liver cancer, although more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be reached.
The Take Home: Watch Your Waist
AICR’s Associate Director of Nutrition Programs Alice Bender, M.S., R.D.N. agrees. “Next to not smoking, getting to and staying at a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from many cancers,” she said.
“That means it’s more important than ever to do what you can to get to a healthy weight: being active every day, putting plenty of plant foods like fruits, vegetables and grains on your plate and limiting or avoiding alcohol. The good news is that these same strategies lower risk for many other common cancers and chronic diseases.”
Other key lifestyle risk factors for liver cancer include viral hepatitis, type 2 diabetes, and aflatoxins.