MONDAY, Sept. 9, 2019 (HealthDay News) — To the many ways in which coffee seems to confer unexpected health benefits, add a lowered risk of painful gallstones.
After tracking nearly 105,000 Danes for an average of eight years, researchers found that those who downed more than six cups per day of the world’s most popular beverage saw their gallstone risk drop by 23%.
“High coffee intake is associated with a lower risk of gallstone disease,” said study author Dr. A. Tybjaerg-Hansen. She’s chief physician of Rigshospitalet’s department of clinical biochemistry at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark.
That’s good news for Danes, 6% of whom drink six or more cups of coffee every day, she said.
But what about the average Dane, who knocks back just two cups a day? Or the average American or Brit who consumes between one to two cups daily? The study has good news for them, too. It turns out that even small amounts of coffee appeared to lower gallstone risk.
Compared to those who abstained from coffee, participants who drank just one cup of Joe a day saw the risk of gallstones dip by about 3%. Meanwhile, those who consumed three to six cups per day saw their risk slide by 17%.
The findings were published Sept. 5 in the Journal of Internal Medicine.
Gallstones are hard pebble-like pieces that can accumulate in the gallbladder, where they can sometimes block bile ducts. When that extremely painful condition develops, surgery to remove them is often the treatment of choice.
So what is it about coffee that seems to diminish risk? Tybjaerg-Hansen said that, for now, “we can only speculate on that.”
But she noted that because caffeine is excreted via the bile, it’s possible that it reduces the amount of cholesterol found in the bile. That could reduce gallstone risk, given that “the development of gallstones depends on a balance largely between cholesterol and bile acids,” Tybjaerg-Hansen explained.
Coffee also stimulates the muscle contractions that move contents though the gastrointestinal tract.
As to whether it’s the caffeine content that serves as coffee’s silver bullet, Tybjaerg-Hansen said, “yes, that is a possibility.” That raises the prospect that tea or chocolate might also lower gallstone risk.