Well Being

Liver #Fail: How Drinking Alcohol (Or Not) Could Affect Your Health

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A new study out of Japan says that moderate weekly drinking of wine and beer could actually reduce the inflammation of a fatty liver. If you're like me, and you don't drink at all, you're thinking, “Well I guess that's good for those who enjoy a pint after work, but it doesn't affect me.” Wrong! To add confusion to the mix, the study also suggests that teetotalers are actually at greater risk at developing a fatty liver than moderate drinkers. So, after years of telling us that alcohol consumption is a leading cause of cirrhosis and liver disease (including failure), now scientists want us to drink up? Excuse me if I don't immediately run to my local pub to make up for lost time, but there are so many things I find questionable about this new scientific study, I almost don't know where to begin. In fact, it leaves me with more questions than answers.

This is how the authors describe their methodology:

We enrolled 9,886 male participants at regular medical health checks. Each subject’s history of alcohol consumption was determined by questionnaire. The subjects were classified according to alcohol consumption as non-, light, moderate, and heavy drinkers.

That's all fine and good, but if the purpose of the study is to clarify how one develops a fatty liver, more background information on the participants beyond their drinking habits should factor in. There are numerous variables that affect fatty livers: obesity, diabetes, meat-based diets, medications, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol … I could go on. The provided abstract of the study does concede that “Independent predictors of fatty liver were determined by logistic regression analysis,” which is just a fancy way of saying they used previous statistical analyses of those factors to fill in the gaps, but there is no provided information on where those statistics came from, how old the information is, how many people are included in those statistics … and more. See why I have so many questions now?

Also, in their conclusion, they say that “alcohol consumption plays a protective role” against the development of a fatty liver. But they don't say how many of their moderate drinkers were in danger of developing a fatty liver, how many participants saw a decrease in liver inflammation, nor how significant that decrease was.

What are we supposed to conclude from this study? If I had cirrhosis of the liver, would they recommend moderate drinking to repair the damage? What if I was a recovering alcoholic? I don't suffer from obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or high cholesterol (and I'm a vegetarian). Are they saying that, despite all that, I'm at risk for developing a fatty liver because I'm teetotal? And no information is given on why the study was only tested on men and not women.

In the past, Blisstree has reported on studies that suggested moderate drinking could increase one's lifespan, so this new research from Japan fits in nicely there.

But when researchers publish their findings right out of the gate, and release the news to the media, it creates a hype that makes people feel secure in their bad habits. Relieved from the guilt of wanting that drink, even though they know it's bad for them, people will actually believe they're doing something good for their bodies, when it is clear that further research and study is required before that assertion can be made. Many won't ask questions. They'll just drink and be merry.

I'm not sold on this study, and frankly, I think it's a careless approach to scientific research. But hey, I could be wrong. And you know what, if I am proven wrong in the future when more detailed and comprehensive studies are done, I'll welcome it. I'm kind of tired of always being the designated driver anyway.

(Photo: Becca Lemire)

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