Liver disease: Binge drinking raises risk more than overall intake

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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Researchers say drinking a lot of alcohol at one time is more unhealthy for your liver than daily consumption of alcohol. VICTOR TORRES/Stocksy
  • Researchers say binge drinking combined with genetic risk can dramatically raise the risk of developing alcohol-related cirrhosis.
  • They add that having type 2 diabetes puts people who binge drink at even greater risk.
  • Experts say the study findings could help identify people who need targeted interventions to prevent liver disease.

Alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver is often thought of as a disease related to chronic alcohol misuse, but new research is reporting that this deadly liver illness may also be triggered by binge drinking.

Researchers said that people who binge drink and also have a genetic makeup putting them at higher risk of alcohol-related cirrhosis may have a six-fold increased risk of developing the disease compared to study participants who reported drinking within daily limits and had low genetic predisposition to alcohol-related cirrhosis.

The researchers noted that this risk was even higher among binge drinkers who also had a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

Their findings were detailed in a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

In cases where all three risk factors are present — binge drinking, genetic disposition, and the presence of type 2 diabetes — drinking patterns may play a more significant role in development of cirrhosis than the volume of drinking, according to the researchers from University College London, the Royal Free Hospital, the University of Oxford, and the University of Cambridge.

“Many studies that look into the relationship between liver disease and alcohol focus on the volume of alcohol consumed,” said Linda Ng Fat, a first study author and a senior research fellow at the University College London, in a press statement. “We took a different approach by focusing on the pattern of drinking and found that this was a better indicator of liver disease risk than volume alone. The other key finding was that the more risk factors involved, the higher the ‘excess risk’ due to the interaction of these factors.”

“This research is important because it reveals that it’s not just how much you drink overall but the way that you drink matters,” added Pamela Healy, chief executive officer of the British Liver Trust. “Drinking a lot, quickly, or drinking to get drunk, can have serious consequences for your liver Health.”

Researchers said the each factor raised the risk of liver disease even when viewed in isolation.

For example, those who engaged in heavy binge drinking, categorized as having 12 units of alcohol in a day at some point during a given week, were three times as likely to develop alcohol-related cirrhosis.

The risk for those with a high genetic predisposition was four times higher and the risk for those with type 2 diabetics was two times higher.

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