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Metabolic and biochemical effects of low-to-moderate alcohol consumption

Authors of a study published online in ‘Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research’ state that alcohol consumption has multiple biochemical consequences. Only a few of these are useful as diagnostic markers, but many reflect potentially harmful or beneficial effects of alcohol. The average consumption of 2 to 4 drinks per day is associated with lower overall or cardiovascular mortality risk than either lower or higher intake.

The authors analysed the dose-response relationships between reported alcohol consumption and 17 biomarkers, with emphasis on intake of up to 3 drinks per day. Biochemical tests were performed on serum from 8,396 study participants (3,750 men and 4,646 women, aged 51 ± 13 years, range 18 to 93) who had provided information on alcohol consumption in the week preceding blood collection.

Results showed that Gamma glutamyl transferase, alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, carbohydrate-deficient transferrin, urate, ferritin, and bilirubin showed little or no change with alcohol consumption below 2 to 3 drinks per day, but increased with higher intake. High-density lipoprotein cholesterol and albumin showed increasing results, and insulin showed decreasing results, across the entire range of alcohol use. Biphasic responses, where subjects reporting 1 to 2 drinks per day had lower results than those reporting either more or less alcohol use, occurred for triglycerides, glucose, C-reactive protein, alkaline phosphatase, and butyrylcholinesterase.

Increasing alcohol use was associated with decreasing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) in younger women, but higher LDL-C in older men. The authors conclude that some markers show threshold relationships with alcohol, others show continuous ones, and a third group show biphasic or U-shaped relationships. Overall, the biochemical sequelae of low-to-moderate alcohol use are consistent with the epidemiological evidence on morbidity and mortality.

Source: Metabolic and biochemical effects of low-to-moderate alcohol consumption. Whitfield JB; Heath AC; Madden PA; Pergadia ML; Montgomery GW; Martin NG. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.  Published early online 7 November 2012.

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