Alcohol use is associated with hepatic steatosis, even after exclusion of heavy drinkers. Binge drinking was associated with a particularly high risk. The results are drawn from a retrospective analysis of the Framingham Heart Study and indicate a possible connection between alcohol use and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). If confirmed prospectively, the results suggest that alcohol use could be a target for prevention and treatment of presumed NAFLD.
The study was led by, of Boston University, and was published in .
Previous studies have produced mixed results with respect to alcohol consumption and NAFLD, with some reporting increased risk with alcohol consumption, and some a beneficial effect of moderate alcohol consumption. Most such studies focused on average daily or weekly alcohol intake, without examining individual differences in alcohol use behavior.
The current work included 2,475 participants from the Offspring and Third Generation Cohorts of the multidetector CT (MDCT) substudy of the Framingham Heart Study. The researchers excluded heavy drinkers, defined as those who had more than 21 drinks (men) or 14 drinks (women) per week.
Of the sample, 17.3% had hepatic steatosis as measured by MDCT. The risk of hepatic steatosis increased from 15.3% to 54.3% along increasing categories of alcohol use.
With each standard deviation increase in the number of alcohol drinks per week, the risk of hepatic steatosis increased by 15% (adjusted odds ratio, 1.15; 95% CI, 1.02-1.29). Of subjects with presumed NAFLD, 25.4% were binge drinkers, defined as four or more drinks per day in women and five or more in men.
A pattern of risky weekly drinking – defined as 8 or more drinks for women or 15 or more for men – was associated with a 45% increase in odds of hepatic steatosis (aOR, 1.45; 95% CI, 1.06-1.98).
An analysis of only current drinkers showed stronger associations between hepatic steatosis and the number of alcoholic drinks per week, risky weekly drinking, and maximum number of drinks in 24 hours.
When the researchers broke down the analysis by beer, wine, or spirit drinkers, they only found a statistically significant association between alcohol consumption and hepatic steatosis in beer drinkers.
The study authors received funding from a range of nonindustry sources. They reported having no relevant financial disclosures.