DEC 08, 2022 3:17 PM PST

Are Low Levels of Alcohol Consumption Actually Safe?

WRITTEN BY: Zoe Michaud

Since the liver is the primary site of ethanol metabolism, heavy alcohol use is consistently associated with liver disease. Excessive, chronic alcohol consumption can result in steatosis, hepatitis, and fibrosis of the liver. 

While heavy alcohol consumption is consistently associated with liver disease (about 35 percent of heavy alcohol users develop advanced liver disease), the risks and effects of non-heavy alcohol consumption are less understood. 

Previous studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption could lower the risk of dying from heart disease. Though this could be a result of alcohol raising levels of HDL cholesterol, scientists have also noted a number of confounding variables that bring these results into question. 

These previous studies have tended to focus on red wine consumption. Scientists have noted that those who consume red wine are more likely to have higher incomes, which is in turn associated with greater access to healthier foods. 

A recent study from the Boston University School of Medicine collected data from 2,629 participants that used alcohol to varying degrees. The participants completed questionnaires about their alcohol use along with a transient elastography, a method of assessing liver fibrosis and level of liver stiffness. 

The researchers found that the likelihood of developing liver fibrosis increased as the number of drinks per week increased. They also found that the likelihood of developing liver fibrosis increased as the frequency of drinking increased. This study demonstrates that whether there is a safe level of alcohol consumption is still unknown. 

Corresponding author Michelle T. Long MD, MSc, associate professor of medicine, notes that “our results reinforce the importance of encouraging all patients to reduce alcohol intake as much as possible and to at least adhere to current U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommended limits.”

Clinical recommendations still suggest limiting alcohol consumption as much as possible to avoid health outcomes such as liver and heart conditions, high blood pressure, and stroke. 

Sources: Alcohol Research, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology

 

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Zoe (she/her) is a science writer and a scientist working in genomics. She received her B.S. from the University of Connecticut with a focus in Evolutionary Biology. At Labroots, she focuses on writing scientific content related to clinical research and diagnostics.
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