Heart Benefit of Alcohol Not Seen in NAFLD

By Lisa Rapaport

September 06, 2017

(Reuters Health) - Light to moderate drinkers may have a lower risk of heart disease than teetotalers, but a new study suggests this doesn’t hold true in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

"Heart disease is actually the leading cause of death in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease so it is important to investigate possible dietary and lifestyle factors that might help prevent complications of heart disease," said lead study author Dr. Lisa VanWagner of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

"We failed to find any association between moderate alcohol use and multiple different markers of heart disease and heart disease risks, including blood pressure, cholesterol or calcium deposits in the arteries of the heart," VanWagner said by email.

Researchers examined data on 2479 adults aged 18 to 30, following them for 25 years to assess their drinking habits and check for development of fatty liver disease, heart disease or risk factors for cardiac problems.

In the final analysis, 570 participants, or 23% had NAFLD, researchers reported online August 9 in Gastroenterology.

Roughly 58% of the people with NAFLD were light or moderate drinkers, while the rest said they didn’t drink at all.

Drinking in moderation was defined as an average of one or two drinks a day for men and one a day for women, VanWagner said.

Drinkers were more likely to be white, male and have more education than nondrinkers. People who used alcohol were also more likely to be obese and have diabetes.

But there wasn’t any difference in heart disease or risk factors for heart disease based on whether people with NAFLD abstained or drank moderately.

It’s possible at least some of the study participants weren’t truthful about their drinking habits when they were surveyed, and some might have downplayed their alcohol use or actually had alcoholic fatty liver disease, the authors note.

"Alcohol abuse is a well known risk factor for liver disease, up to cirrhosis and end stage liver damage," said Dr. Valerio Nobili of University La Sapienza and Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome, Italy.

It's also possible that the study didn't find a protective effect from alcohol for people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease because of other factors such as how much exercise people got or what they ate, Nobili, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

"Today it's very well known that moderate alcohol use compared to abstinence is associated with lower mortality in the general population, decreasing the incidence of coronary heart disease, diabetes and ischemic stroke," Nobili said. "What isn’t clear is whether that is also true in people affected by nonalcoholic fatty liver disease."

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/2wJuE9s

Gastroenterology 2017.