People with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NALFD) who consume a peg or two daily are half as likely to develop hepatitis as non-alcoholics with the same condition, says a new study.
NALFD is the most common liver disease in the US, affecting up to a third of American adults. It's characterized by abnormal fat accumulation in the liver. The specific cause or causes is not known, though obesity and diabetes are risk factors.
Most patients with NAFLD have few or no symptoms, but in its most progressive form, known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH, there is a significantly heightened risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver-related death, the Journal of Hepatology reports.
NALFD is also a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Such patients are approximately two times more likely to die from coronary heart disease than from liver disease.
The authors wanted to know if the well-documented heart-healthy benefits of modest alcohol consumption outweighed alcohol's negative effects, according to a California statement.
"We know a 50-year-old patient with NAFLD has a higher risk of CVD," said Jeffrey Schwimmer, associate professor of clinical paediatrics at University of California and director of the Fatty Liver Clinic at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego and senior study author.
"Data would suggest modest alcohol consumption would be beneficial (in reducing the patient's CVD risk) if you don't take liver disease into account. When you do take liver disease into account, however, the usual medical recommendation is no alcohol whatsoever."
Schwimmer and colleagues discovered that the benefits of modest alcohol consumption were compelling, at least in terms of reducing the odds of patients with NAFLD from developing more severe forms of the disease.
Patients with NASH are 10 times more likely to progress to cirrhosis, the final phase of chronic liver disease. Cirrhosis is the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S.
"Our study showed that those people with modest alcohol intake - two drinks or less daily - had half the odds of developing NASH than people who drank no alcohol," said Schwimmer.