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Alcoholic Liver Disease May Be Due to Environmental Factors

Posted in Alcoholism Treatment

There are many secondary consequences associated with alcohol use disorders. Besides the increased risk of injury, risky sexual behaviors and other adverse events that can occur with the misuse of alcohol, there are also problems that may occur due to heavy cumulative alcohol consumption.

Experts have linked certain types of cancer to this type of heavy alcohol consumption pattern, as well as more immediate consequences such as financial struggles or loss of employment. Heavy drinking may impact cardiovascular conditions and some mental disorders.

Another significant result of ongoing heavy alcohol use is the occurrence of alcoholic liver disease (ALD). ALD is a disease of the liver that is initiated by damage due to alcohol consumption and results in cirrhosis as the liver becomes incapable of processing toxins.

A recent study by researchers from the University of Sheffield and the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust provided new insight into the source of ALD. The researchers found that environmental factors seem to have a more significant impact on the development of ALD when compared with genetic predisposition.

The findings, published in a recent issue of the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology revealed that an individual who is diagnosed with ALD is not more likely to have relatives with the disease when compared with heavy drinkers who have no signs of having ALD.

The study was initiated by Dr. Dermot Gleeson, Consultant Hepatologist, and focused on a select group of participants comprised of 291 heavy drinkers diagnosed with liver disease, as well as 208 heavy drinkers who did not have any evidence of ALD. Participants were included if they consumed more than 60 units per week for males and 40 units per week for females.

The researchers gathered information about both groups of heavy drinkers using a questionnaire, followed by a phone call. The questionnaire and phone call involved questions measuring drinking behaviors, as well as the knowledge of ALD in close relatives, such as siblings or parents.

The individuals were asked about the drinking habits they had as they occurred in separate stages in their lives, and then were asked to assign a level to their relatives’ drinking behaviors, designating them as moderate, abstinent, light/social, or heavy.

The results of the study indicated that the relatives of both groups of heavy drinkers exhibited similar drinking habits. In addition, the occurrence of any kind of liver disease in the relatives of both patients and the control group was similar.

Dr. Gleeson explains that the results indicate that environmental factors may be more important than genetic factors when determining the cause of ALD. Factors that may be involved are diet, infections or other medications. Further research is necessary to understand the environmental factors that influence the development of ALD.