Research has suggested that environmental factors have a greater impact on the risk of alcoholic liver disease (ALD) than genetic predisposition.
A team of researchers at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Sheffield has published results this month in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology showing that patients with ALD are no more likely to have relatives with ALD than are heavy drinkers without evidence of liver disease.
The results are based on a study comparing 291 heavy drinkers with liver disease with 208 participants with similar levels of alcohol consumption, but no evidence of liver disease (called the ‘control’ group).
Led by Dr Dermot Gleeson, Consultant Hepatologist, the team collected data on both groups of drinkers, through a questionnaire and a follow-up phone call, on drinking behaviour and the presence of liver disease in parents and siblings. Men who consume more than 60 units per week and women who consume more than 40 units per week were included.
Participants were asked questions about their drinking behaviours at different stages across their lives, and were asked to grade his or her relatives’ drinking behaviours as abstinent, light/social, moderate or heavy.
The results showed that the relatives of both groups had similar drinking habits, with similar proportions of each recorded as being abstinent (15.8 for patients vs 16.1% for controls), light/social (35.4 vs 37.4%), moderate (30.4 vs 27.4%), and heavy (18.3 vs 19.7%) drinkers.
The frequency of any liver disease in the relatives of patients and controls was also similar, at 3.3% vs 3.1%. Furthermore, only a slightly higher percentage (12%) of relatives of patients were reported to have ALD (defined as liver disease in a heavy drinker), compared to 9.7% of the relatives of the control group.