Here’s something that may come as a surprise: A new study has found people with fatty liver disease who consume alcohol in modest amounts are half as likely to develop hepatitis as non-drinkers with the same condition.
The study, led by researchers at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine, may be one of the first to suggest alcohol can actually be good for the liver for some people.
The findings, published in The Journal of Hepatology, are based on analysis of the health records of 600 liver patients.
"Our study showed that those people with modest alcohol intake – two drinks or less daily – had half the odds of developing [hepatitis] than people who drank no alcohol," said lead researcher Dr. Jeffrey Schwimmer, director of the Fatty Liver Clinic at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego. "The reasons aren't entirely clear.”
Schwimmer said it’s possible that alcohol, which boosts “good” cholesterol (typically low in liver disease patients) may “improve insulin sensitivity…and have anti-inflammatory effects" in such patients.
For the study, researchers examined the effects of different types of alcohol, such as beer or spirits, on 600 liver patients. The study excluded anyone who averaged more than two alcoholic drinks per day or who reported consuming five or more drinks in a day (binge-drinking) at least once a month. All of the patients were at least 21 years of age.
Schwimmer said the findings indicate patients with liver disease should be treated individually.
"For a patient with cirrhosis or viral hepatitis, the data says even small amounts of alcohol can be bad,” he said. “But that may not be applicable to all forms of liver disease. Forty million Americans have [liver disease]. Physicians need to look at their patient's overall health."