Page last updated: Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Greater than moderate alcohol intake increases the risk of liver cirrhosis 

A new meta-analysis shows that alcohol consumption is a strong factor in the development of cirrhosis of the liver. The study also supports the theory that there is a threshold of drinking above which the risk is increased, as some of their analyses suggest that the risk increases only with intake of more than 24 grams/day of alcohol for women (about 2 typical drinks by US standards) and 36 grams/day of alcohol for men (about 3 typical US drinks).
Despite some concerns about the approach used, members of The International Forum on Alcohol Research agree that the present meta-analysis supports previous studies indicating a strong role of heavy alcohol drinking in the development of cirrhosis.  The differences found by the investigators between the effects of moderate alcohol intake on cirrhosis morbidity and on cirrhosis mortality are difficult to explain, but may relate to misclassification of alcohol intake (heavy drinkers reporting less alcohol), always a problem in observational studies of the effects of alcohol.
The results related to morbidity suggest that small amounts of alcohol are not associated with an increased risk of cirrhosis, and may be associated with lower risk of disease.  Thus, the data provide evidence for a “threshold effect” of alcohol intake for the development of cirrhosis.  Limited previous data are available suggesting that wine consumption may be associated with lower risk of cirrhosis than the intake of other beverages, but essentially all studies show heavy drinking of any type of beverage increases the risk.
Reference:  Rehm J, Taylor B, Patra SM, Irving H, Baliunas D, Patra J, Roerecke M.  Alcohol as a risk factor for liver cirrhosis: A systematic review and meta-analysis.  Drug and Alcohol Review 2010,29,437–445.  DOI: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2009.00153.x
For the detailed critique of this paper by the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research, visit www.alcoholforum4profs.org

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