A study published last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that coffee may be the antidote to too much alcohol consumption in more ways than one. Subjects who drank less than one cup of coffee a day were 30 percent less likely to develop alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver; the risk reduction was 40 percent for one to three cups and 80 percent for four or more cups. Tea drinking had no apparent impact on cirrhosis risk, indicating that caffeine is not the protective factor (assuming the relationship is causal).
Between this study and the discovery that coffee is rich in antioxidants, the stuff is beginning to seem positively healthful. As I noted last year, Americans are pathetically eager to learn that what they enjoy is also good for them, and in this case you have the added appeal of one vice helping to ameliorate the harmful effects of another. The researchers are predictably quick to play down that angle. "Even if coffee is protective," they say, "the primary approach to reduction of alcoholic cirrhosis is avoidance or cessation of heavy alcohol drinking."