Page last updated: Thursday, August 06, 2009

Moderate alcohol consumption may protect against gallstones

Research by the University of East Anglia in the UK has found that consuming two units of alcohol a day cuts the chance of developing gallstones by a third. The research was presented at the Digestive Disease Week annual meeting in Chicago, 29th May– 4th June.

It was already known that alcohol intake has a protective effect against the formation of gallstones, but this new study establishes for the first time the precise quantitative effect of each unit of alcohol on the development of gallstones.

Using questionnaires, investigators measured the dietary habits of 25,639 men and women and followed them for a 10-year period, during which time 267 patients developed gallstones.

Participants in the study provided detailed information on the frequency and quantity of their alcohol intake. Researchers found that those who reported consuming two UK units of alcohol per day had a one-third reduction in their risk of developing gallstones.

Each unit of alcohol consumed per week reduced the chances of gallstones by three per cent.

Researchers emphasised that their findings show the benefits of moderate alcohol intake but stress that excessive alcohol intake can cause health problems. Quantifying how much alcohol reduces the risk of gallstone development allows doctors to offer specific guidance without introducing the risk of excessive alcohol consumption.

“These findings significantly increase our understanding of the development of gallstones,” said Dr Andrew Hart, senior lecturer in gastroenterology at UEA’s School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice. “Once we examine all the factors related to their development in our study in the UK, including diet, exercise, body weight and alcohol intake, we can develop a precise understanding of what causes gallstones and how to prevent them.”

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