The major cause for liver-related deaths worldwide is alcohol consumption. A new large study from Sweden has confirmed the connection between drinking during late adolescence and liver problems in adulthood, as reported in the Journal of Hepatology. 

Drinking alcohol in late teens damages the liver later in life. Image by ScienceBriefss.
Drinking alcohol in late teens damages the liver later in life.

General current recommended limit for alcohol consumption for men is around 30 grams per day, the equivalent of three drinks. However, the new study suggests the cut-off limit may not be that clear. “Our study showed that how much you drink in your late teens can predict the risk of developing cirrhosis later in life,” explains lead investigator Hannes Hagström, MD, PhD, of the Centre for Digestive Diseases, Division of Hepatology, Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden. 

The research team conducted a retrospective study to evaluate the correlations between early consumption of alcohol and the risk to develop severe liver injuries later in life. They took advantage of the data found in a nationwide survey conducted between 1969 and 1970 on all Swedish men conscripted into military service. The study included data about more than 49,000 men aged between 18 and 20. The researchers matched the identity from the conscription data with records found in the National Patient Register and the Causes of Death Register. This allowed them to assess the health of the participants over time and the incidence of liver diseases up to the end of 2009. Other factors, such as smoking, body mass index, cognitive ability, use or narcotics and cardiovascular problems, which might have contributed to the health of the individuals, were taken into account and results were adjusted accordingly. 

The results showed that consumption of alcohol early in life was positively associated with an increased risk of developing liver disease. Over the 40 years of follow-up, 383 men from the cohort developed severe liver disease, defined as a diagnosis of liver cirrhosis, decompensated liver disease (hepatocellular carcinoma, ascites, esophageal varices, hepatorenal syndrome, or hepatic encephalopathy), liver failure, or death from liver disease. The risk was dependent of the dose of alcohol consumed. Individuals that reported consuming more than two drinks per day (around 20 grams), or more had the highest risk of liver disease. Before adjusting for other factors (body mass index, tobacco consumption, etc.), the risk was significant for daily alcohol consumption as low as six grams per day. The results are validated only for men and further research is needed to see if the same is true for women. These results suggest maybe it is the time for the cut-off levels for alcohol consumption to be revised. 

The study confirms the present believe that chronic alcohol consumption at a younger age is risky behavior. According to the World Health Organization’s 2014 global status report on alcohol and health, alcohol-related cirrhosis is responsible for 493,300 deaths each year. This is, in theory, 100% preventable which states the importance of education and prevention methods in decreasing alcohol consumption.

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