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Coffee May Help Prevent Gallstones

June 8, 1999

CHICAGO (AP) _ A few cups of regular coffee per day might help prevent gallstones.

A study found that men who drank two to three cups a day had a 40 percent lower risk of gallstones than those who did not drink regular coffee. Men who drank four or more cups a day had a 45 percent lower risk.

But hold the decaf: Only coffee with caffeine stimulates contractions in the gallbladder and lowers cholesterol in bile that can form painful gallstones.

Exactly why is unclear. Caffeinated tea and soda don’t have the same effect, the researchers reported in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

``I wouldn’t actually say we would recommend that people take up coffee just to prevent gallstones,″ said Dr. Michael F. Leitzmann of the Harvard University School of Public Health. ``But it’s OK to continue drinking it. Coffee doesn’t cause any other major diseases.″

Gallstones are painful deposits of cholesterol in the gallbladder, the organ under the liver that stores bile. They affect about 20 million Americans and cause 800,000 hospitalizations each year, researchers said.

Leitzmann said lack of physical activity and being overweight are the two main causes.

The researchers followed 46,008 men from 1986 through 1996. The men, who were 40 to 75 in 1986, were participants in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which is looking at diet and lifestyle factors and their effect on diseases.

Dr. Thomas Magnuson, a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University, has conducted animal research that reached similar conclusions about the link between coffee consumption and gallstones.

``But further research needs to be done to see what that link is and what it is in coffee that causes that relationship,″ he said.

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