9 June 1999

Coffee Cuts Gallstone Risk In Men

Good news for coffee lovers! A new study suggests that drinking at least two cups of caffeinated coffee a day lowers the risk of developing gallstones in men. This is apparently due to the preventative effect caffein has upon the formation of the lumps.

Harvard University researchers concluded that coffee provided some protection for adult men from gallstones but stopped short of recommending increased consumption, noting that some people have health risks that coffee could aggravate.

In a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found a 40 percent lower risk of developing gallstones among men who drank two to three cups of regular coffee per day. Those who drank four or more cups reduced their risk by 45 percent.

The researchers, led by Michael Leitzmann, said those who drank decaffeinated coffee, tea and soft drinks did not consume as much caffeine as the regular coffee drinkers and did not receive the same protection from gallstones.

Gallstones are lumps composed mainly of cholesterol. They can be caused by fatty diets and afflict 20 million people in the United States alone, where the condition leads to 800,000 hospitalizations a year at a cost of $2 billion.

When gallstones get stuck in the duct leading from the gallbladder, they can trigger vomiting and cause pain in the abdomen and between the shoulder blades. The condition can also lead to inflammation of the gallbladder, the sac under the liver where bile is stored and concentrated. Bile aids in digestion, especially of fats.

The researchers offered several possible theories to explain why coffee prevented the formation of gallstones.

Among the theories proposed were that the caffeine prevents cholesterol from crystallizing, cuts fat storage by increasing energy expenditure, reduces the fluid absorption that precedes gallstone formation, or increases bile flow through the gallbladder.

The study spanned a decade and included 46,000 dentists, veterinarians, optometrists, physicians and podiatrists aged 40 to 75 who have been participating in the school's Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which began in 1986.