Alcohol is a risk factor for more than 200 health disorders and is linked to 40% of deaths from liver disease. The World Health Organization (WHO) and experts agree that there is no healthy level of consumption: not drinking alcohol is the best way to avoid future health problems.
However, faced with the increase in consumption globally, and knowing that a large part of the population is reluctant not to drink alcohol, the vice-president of the European Association for Liver Studies (EASL) advised the least spend three days a week without ingesting alcoholic beverages to take care of liver health. This should be accompanied by moderate intakes the rest of the days and a balanced diet.
Experts meeting at the International Liver Congress, held in London, UK, last week, warned of the importance of reducing alcohol intake and taking steps to moderate consumption.
An investigation carried out by the European Association for Liver Studies and the scientific journal The Lancet pointed out that Europe suffers from the highest rate of alcohol consumption in the world. On the continent, some 290,000 people die each year from liver disease and at least 40% of those deaths are related to alcohol consumption.
In addition to this worrying scenario, liver diseases affect middle-aged adults and cause premature deaths. In Europe, “chronic liver disease has the greatest impact on young and middle-aged people in their best working years, with the maximum age of death between 40 and 50 years,” warned the report published last December.
The European experts from the EASL warned that this situation “contrasts with mortality from diseases related to smoking and others related to obesity, such as lung cancer or type 2 diabetes, whose deaths usually occur between 60 and 70 years. ”. Consequently, data from the World Health Organization show that liver disease is now second only to ischemic heart disease as the leading cause of years of working life lost in Europe. On average, two-thirds of all potential years of life lost due to liver disease mortality are years of working life.
For all this, the European Association for Liver Studies stressed that it is necessary to join efforts to prevent liver diseases. On that path, discouraging alcohol consumption is one of the most urgent steps. The World Health Organization (WHO) highlights that there is no healthy level of consumption.
Knowing that the best medical advice is not to drink alcoholic beverages, some experts believe that they must convey a realistic message that the population can comply with, which is why they point to consumption guidelines that can at least prevent future liver disorders.
“You have to stay three days without drinking each week, never consume more than five units of alcohol at one time and no more than 10 a week,” explained Aleksander Krag, deputy general secretary of EASL in statements to the newspaper El País and added: ” Keep in mind that a unit does not correspond to a drink. A full glass of wine is equivalent to three units, a can of beer is one and a half or a shot of a high-proof drink, one unit”.
The experts stressed that alcohol is not only toxic to the body but also causes addiction. Therefore, Krag was emphatic: “You should not drink a glass of wine thinking that it is healthy, but because you like it.”
“The amount of healthy alcohol is minimal, a glass of wine per day could be. But it is necessary to warn that this varies according to the general state of the liver,” Dr. Esteban González Ballerga, hepatologist and head of the Gastroenterology service at the Hospital de Clínicas “José de San Martín,” told Infobae.
The expert warned that many people have liver problems and have no diagnosis: “30% of the population has fatty liver and does not know it, almost all hepatitis C are undiagnosed, as well as hepatitis B. And in those cases the alcohol consumption is a catastrophe”.
Regarding what diseases are linked to the intake of alcoholic beverages, Gonzalez Ballerga stressed that “fatty liver, the most ferocious hepatitis C, liver cirrhosis, in conclusion, all liver diseases worsen with alcohol consumption.”
The latest research
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) warns that the region of the Americas ranks as the second highest in alcohol consumption and burden, after the European region. Alcohol consumption is expected to increase if more effective policies are not implemented.
Alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing six types of cancers: liver, breast, esophagus, colorectal, mouth and pharynx, and larynx. One is the direct toxic effect of acetaldehyde, a breakdown product of alcohol when consumed in the human body. Also the consumption of alcoholic beverages produces changes in hormonal concentrations and the production of free radicals that accumulate and can damage and kill cells.
A group of researchers from Conicet and the Institute of Clinical and Health Effectiveness (IECS) of Argentina, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Utrecht and other institutions in the Netherlands, demonstrated the association between the risk of developing cancer and alcohol consumption, according to Infobae anticipated in March.
The scientists found that if “heavy” drinkers drank less daily, and moved into the moderate drinking category, there would be a 24% reduction in deaths from alcohol-attributable cancers in the country. But they also found that a greater reduction in the burden of cancer attributable to alcohol would be achieved if the group of moderate drinkers were moved to the category of “light or light consumption.”
With these changes in habits, almost half of all deaths and disability-adjusted life years attributable to alcohol consumption would be avoided, as explained to Infobae by expert Ariel Bardach, who is a medical doctor from the University of Buenos Aires and has a Masters in Epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, England.
Impact on the brain
Specialists from the Universities of Wisconsin, Switzerland and Pennsylvania published a paper in the journal Nature Communications where they analyze alcohol consumption, even at levels that most would consider moderate (a few beers or glasses of wine a week).
For the analysis, they examined associations between alcohol intake and brain structure using multimodal imaging data from 36,678 generally healthy middle-aged and older adults from the UK Biobank, controlling for numerous potential confounders. Consistent with previous scientific evidence, they found negative associations between alcohol intake and brain macrostructure and microstructure.
They found that the link became stronger the higher the level of alcohol consumption. For example, in people age 50, as average alcohol consumption increases from one unit of alcohol (about half a can of beer) a day to two units (a pint of beer or a glass of wine), produce associated changes in the brain, equivalent to aging two years. Going from two to three units of alcohol at the same age resulted in similar changes to aging three and a half years on average.