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Alcohol Is Good for Most Common Liver Disease in the US

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2012-04-20 07:56

This may sound unusual, but a moderate amount of alcohol can be beneficial for people who have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NALFD), which is the most common liver disease in the United States. This finding comes from a national group of investigators headed by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

What is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease?

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease affects up to one-quarter of people in the United States, yet many people have never heard of the disease, realize they are at risk, or recognize the symptoms, so here’s a brief introduction.

The liver is a multifunctional organ, processing food into energy and nutrients the body can utilize while also ridding the body of toxins and other damaging substances from the blood. A healthy liver weighs about three pounds, and 5% to 10% of that weight is fat.

However, if the liver accumulates excessive fat in its cells that is not caused by alcohol, the result is a condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. NAFLD usually develops in people who have diabetes, who are overweight or obese, or who have high cholesterol or high triglycerides.

NALFD can also develop in people who experience rapid weight loss and who have poor dietary habits. People with NALFD are also twice as likely to die from coronary heart disease than from liver disease.

Although most people with NAFLD experience few or no symptoms, the disease can progress to a form called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which has an increased risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver-related death. Individuals with NASH are 10 times more likely to develop cirrhosis, a disease that kills about 27,000 Americans every year.

Alcohol may help the liver
It appears drinking moderate amounts of alcohol can help prevent NASH. To come to this conclusion, the investigators evaluated 600 liver biopsies of patients with NAFLD, none of whom averaged more than two alcoholic drinks per day or engaged in binge drinking (5 or more drinks in a day) at least once a month.

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