The study included more than 63,000 Chinese people, aged 45 to 74, living in Singapore. Starting in 1993, they provided information about their diet, lifestyle habits and medical history, and were followed for an average of nearly 15 years. During that time, 114 of the study participants died from liver cirrhosis.
Drinking two or more cups of coffee a day was associated with a 66 percent lower risk of death from liver cirrhosis caused by non-viral hepatitis, according to the study published online recently in the journal Hepatology.
While viruses are responsible for most cases of hepatitis, it can also develop due to alcohol and drug abuse, or when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy liver cells, according to the U.S National Institutes of Health.
In the new study, coffee consumption did not lower the risk of death from cirrhosis caused by the hepatitis B virus.
Drinking tea, fruit juice or soft drinks had no effect on the risk of death from liver cirrhosis, while heavy alcohol use increased the risk, the findings also suggest.
While the study found a connection between caffeine consumption and lower risk of death from liver cirrhosis in certain patients, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The study is the first to show the different effect that coffee has on the risk of death from non-viral and viral hepatitis-related cirrhosis, according to lead researcher Dr. Woon-Puay Koh, of the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore and the National University of Singapore.
"This finding resolves the seemingly conflicting results on the effect of coffee in Western and Asian-based studies of death from liver cirrhosis," Koh said in a journal news release.
"Our finding suggests that while the benefit of coffee may be less apparent in the Asian population where chronic viral hepatitis B predominates currently, this is expected to change as the incidence of non-viral hepatitis-related cirrhosis is expected to increase in these regions," Koh said. He attributed this likely change to a rise in affluence and "Westernizing" lifestyles in younger groups.
Liver cirrhosis is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A 2004 WHO report said that liver cirrhosis accounts for 1.3 percent of all deaths worldwide each year.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about liver cirrhosis.