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Drinking Patterns Linked to Liver Cirrhosis

Update Date: Jan 26, 2015 08:28 PM EST

Drinking everyday significantly increases the risk of liver cirrhosis, according to a new study. While it's generally believed that cirrhosis is a function of the volume of alcohol consumed, new research reveals ample evidence that drinking patterns can also significantly increase the risk of cirrhosis.

"For the first time, our study points to a risk difference between drinking daily and drinking five or six days a week in the general male population, since earlier studies were conducted on alcohol misusers and patients referred for liver disease and compared daily drinking to 'binge pattern' or 'episodic' drinking," lead investigator Gro Askgaard, MD, of the Department of Hepatology, Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, and the National Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark, said in a news release. "Since the details of alcohol induced liver injury are unknown, we can only speculate that the reason may be that daily alcohol exposure worsens liver damage or inhibits liver regeneration."

The latest study involved data from 55,917 people between the ages of 50 and 64. Researchers noted that 257 men and 85 women developed alcoholic cirrhosis, which was equivalent to an incidence rate of 66 in men and 19 in women per 100,000 person-years.

Study results revealed that daily drinking significantly increases the risk of alcoholic cirrhosis in men. Researchers also found that recent alcohol consumption was a stronger predictor of alcoholic cirrhosis than lifetime alcohol consumption.

"Earlier studies regarding lifetime alcohol consumption and risk of alcoholic cirrhosis reached opposite conclusions, for instance, whether a previous high level of alcohol amount predicted future risk, even after having cut down," added Askgaard. "From a clinical point of view, this is relevant in order to execute evidence-based counseling, and from a public health perspective, it may guide health interventions for the general population."

"This is a timely contribution about one of the most important, if not the most important risk factor for liver cirrhosis globally, because our overall knowledge about drinking patterns and liver cirrhosis is sparse and in part contradictory," said noted expert Jürgen Rehm, PhD, Director of the Social and Epidemiological Research Department of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, according to the news release. "The work of Askgaard and colleagues not only increases our knowledge, but also raises questions for future research. The question of binge drinking patterns and mortality is far from solved, and there may be genetic differences or other covariates not yet discovered, which play a role and could explain the different empirical findings."

The findings are published in the Journal of Hepatology.

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