A new study has found that features of the metabolic syndrome and alcohol consumption are linked with increased risk of developing liver disease.
The findings suggest that people with metabolic risk factors may be more prone to alcohol-related liver damage, and that there is significant overlap of the risk factors of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcohol-related liver disease (ALD).
Having NAFLD, which is known to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, used to be considered separately from ALD. However, the new research suggests that both may be very blended in presence of components of metabolic syndrome.
Researchers from Helsinki University Hospital, in Finland, hypothesised that the effect of alcohol and that of metabolic factors are interrelated, and they set out to study their interaction in liver complications amongst the Finnish population.
The research team analysed 10-year data on 6732 individuals free from liver disease who participated in the Finnish Health 2000 study. They looked at the occurrence of liver disease events among them, alcohol use and metabolic factors predictive of liver disease.
Among those who experienced complications, contributing factors included abnormalities of glucose and lipid metabolism as well as insulin resistance. Of the lipid values, a low LDL cholesterol was especially predictive of liver disease.
For moderate drinkers, the risk for liver disease increased with high body mass indexes (BMI), large waist circumferences and elevated blood sugars, in addition to other determinants like old age, gender and smoking.
Those who consumed higher average amounts of alcohol (140 grams or 10 drinks a week for women, 210 grams or 15 drinks per week for men) were more at risk for liver disease events if they had diabetes or a high waist circumference.
Overall, the main metabolic factors that were found to raise the risk of liver disease included a low LDL cholesterol, abnormal blood sugars and insulin resistance. Abdominal obesity and high BMIs also influenced the risk of liver events.
In light of these findings, researchers believe that alcohol use and a wide range of metabolic abnormalities should be taken into account at the same time to better identify those with a high risk for liver complications.
The results of this study were published in the journal Hepatology.

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