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Study Links Coffee to Lower Risk for Rare Liver Disease

SATURDAY, May 18 (HealthDay News) -- Just a few extra cups of coffee each month might help prevent the development of an autoimmune liver disease known as primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a new study suggests.

Investigators from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., found that drinking coffee was associated with a reduced risk of developing the disease, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure and biliary cancer. This association, however, does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

"While rare, PSC has extremely detrimental effects," Dr. Craig Lammert, an instructor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, said in a news release from the American Gastroenterological Association. "We are always looking for ways to mitigate risk, and our first-time finding points to a novel environmental effect that might also help us determine the cause of this and other devastating autoimmune diseases."

The study involved a large group of patients with PSC and an early form of liver cirrhosis, known as biliary cirrhosis. The researchers compared these patients to a healthy "control" group. The findings indicated that drinking coffee was linked to lower risk for PSC. Coffee consumption, however, was not associated with reduced risk for biliary cirrhosis.

The patients with PSC were much less likely to be coffee drinkers than those in the control group. The healthy participants spent roughly 20 percent more of their lives regularly drinking coffee, the investigators found.

A separate study found that enhancements to palliative care, or specialized comfort care for people with terminal illnesses, are needed to improve quality of life for cirrhosis patients who are rejected for a liver transplant. The review, conducted by researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada, found that only 3 percent of the patients examined died while in hospice care.

"In our study, less than 10 percent of patients had even been referred to palliative care," said Constantine Karvellas, assistant professor of medicine at the university. "We need to be better about ensuring quality of life for these patients."

Palliative care focuses on relief from symptoms, pain and stress. The study showed that more than half of the patients involved in the study had pain and nausea in their final days. Other patients examined also experienced depression, anxiety, breathlessness and anorexia. The researchers said 80 percent were repeatedly hospitalized and underwent invasive procedures.

"Palliative care offers a way to avoid some of these costly procedures and at the same time improve the quality of life for these patients," Karvellas said. "This data helps to start the conversation on how we can make a positive difference in the lives of many patients and families."

The findings of both studies were scheduled for Monday presentation at the Digestive Disease Week annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. Studies presented at medical meetings should be seen as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about PSC.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: American Gastroenterological Association, news release, May 18, 2013

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