A groundbreaking new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, challenges conventional wisdom about alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver. The new findings suggest that binge drinking, not chronic alcohol abuse over decades, could be a significant driver of this deadly liver disease. In fact, even occasional bouts of binge drinking could cause this disorder, which has striking implications for people who drink rarely and then binge drink. The study was released in Nature Communications.
Among the study’s startling findings is that individuals who binge drink and are genetically predisposed to alcohol-related cirrhosis may face a whopping six-fold increased risk of cirrhosis of the liver when compared to those drinking within daily limits with a low genetic risk. The risk is even more pronounced for binge drinkers with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.
While there is certainly much more research to be done, particularly given the caveat about genetics, the results still paint even occasional binge drinking in a seriously grave light. As it currently stands, the intersection of binge drinking, genetic disposition, and type 2 diabetes could possibly outweigh the sheer volume of alcohol consumed in the development of cirrhosis. The research highlights that it’s not just about how much one drinks but how one drinks that matters in assessing the risk of liver disease.
The study reveals that each of the three risk factors examined in the study — binge drinking, genetic predisposition, and type 2 diabetes — individually raises the risk of liver disease. The increase in the chance someone would get the disease was significant. For example, heavy binge drinking triples the risk, a high genetic predisposition quadruples it, and type 2 diabetes doubles it.
Dr. Theodore Strange, chair of the Department of Medicine at Staten Island University Hospital in New York, emphasized the need for further study to fully understand how genetic predisposition can contribute to more serious liver injuries from binge drinking and other factors.
Perhaps the answer lies in the strain that binge drinking puts on the liver’s ability to metabolize alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption overwhelms the liver’s natural detoxification process, causing the liver to accumulate more toxins. This, in turn, can lead to the eventual development of liver cirrhosis.
The study challenges long-held assumptions about liver diseases and calls for a more nuanced understanding of the risks associated with alcohol consumption patterns. As liver disease, particularly alcohol-related fatalities, has seen an increase during the COVID-19 pandemic, the study equips healthcare professionals with tools to identify individuals at the highest risk and target interventions more effectively.