Page last updated: May 2020
Risks of light and moderate alcohol use in fatty liver disease

The effects of alcohol use in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are unclear. A research project investigated the impact of alcohol use in fatty liver disease on incident liver, cardiovascular, and malignant disease, and mortality.

The study comprised 8,345 persons with hepatic steatosis (fatty liver index >60) who participated in health-examination surveys (FINRISK 1992-2012 or Health 2000), with available data on baseline alcohol intake. Main exclusions were baseline clinical liver disease, viral hepatitis, ethanol intake >50 g/day, and current abstainers.

Alcohol consumption showed a dose-dependent risk increase for incident advanced liver disease and malignancies. Consuming 10-19 g/day of alcohol in general or 0-9 g/day as non-wine beverages doubled the risk for advanced liver disease compared to lifetime abstainers. In contrast, alcohol intake up to 49 g/day was associated with a 22%-40% reduction of incident cardiovascular disease (CVD). The researchers observed a J-shaped association between alcohol intake and all-cause death with a maximal risk reduction of 21% (95% confidence interval, 5%- 34%) at alcohol intake of 0-9 g/day compared to lifetime abstainers. However, these benefits on CVD and mortality were only observed in never smokers. Alcohol intake >30 g/day yielded increased risk estimates for mortality compared to lifetime abstainers. In a subpopulation with longitudinal data, alcohol intake remained stable over time in >80% of subjects.

Even low alcohol intake for those already suffering from fatty liver disease was found to be associated with increased risks for advanced liver disease and cancer. However, the study found that low to moderate alcohol use was associated with reduced mortality and reduced CVD risk in never smokers.

Source: Risks of Light and Moderate Alcohol Use in Fatty Liver Disease: Follow-Up of Population Cohorts. Åberg F, Puukka P, Salomaa V, Männistö S, Lundqvist A, Valsta L, Perola M, Färkkilä M, Jula A. Hepatology. 2020 Mar;71(3):835-848.
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