Research: overweight or obesity amplifies liver effects of alcohol

Led by the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition that looked at medical data from nearly half a million people (aged 40-69 years) has found that being overweight or obese considerably amplifies the harmful effects of alcohol on liver disease and mortality.

Senior author and research program director, Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the Charles Perkins Centre and the Faculty of Medicine and Health says that people in the overweight or obese weight category who drank alcohol “were found to be at greater risk of liver diseases compared to participants within a healthy weight range who consumed alcohol at the same level”.

“Even for people who drank within the alcohol guidelines, participants classified as obese were at over 50% greater risk of liver disease,” he says.

According to the researchers, this is one of the first and largest studies looking at increased adiposity and level of alcohol consumption together, in relation to future liver disease.

Lead author, Dr Elif Inan-Eroglu, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Charles Perkins Centre adds that these results suggest people carrying excess weight may need to be more aware of risks around alcohol consumption.

“With the most recent data suggesting two in three people (67% of the Australian population) are in the overweight or obesity range, this is obviously a very topical issue,” says Dr Inan-Eroglu.

Opportunity to further revise alcohol guidelines

The results of this study point to the need for alcohol drinking guidelines and healthcare professionals to consider the increasing trend obesity and overweight prevalence in Australia and its compounding health impacts.

“The current alcohol guidelines are based on reviews of available evidence, but future updates must take into account overweight as a liver disease amplifying factor,” says Professor Stamatakis.

“Briefly mentioning obesity in the current guidelines may not be enough. Overweight and obesity affect over two-thirds of Australians, which raises the need to develop a specific alcohol drinking recommendation for this population majority group.

“Based on our study’s findings, people who are in the overweight range, not only obese, should consume alcohol cautiously, and perhaps aim for an amount well below the generic NHMRC guidelines,” he says.

For more information and to read the research, visit: nature.com/articles/s41430-021-00923-4

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