Alcohol’s Heart Benefits May Not Apply to People With Liver Disease

Numerous articles and videos circulated on social media and reputable websites, stating that light to moderate alcohol intake offers cardio-vascular health benefits. But does this apply to everyone? Studies show that it might not be the case for people with liver disease.


Fatty liver disease

Fatty liver disease happens when there is a substantial build-up of fats in the liver cells. A bit of fat — quantified as below five percent of the organ’s weight — is not to be worried about. However, if the accumulated fat is at least five percent of the liver’s weight, which may trigger symptoms, it is highly recommended to consult a doctor.

There are two common types of fatty liver disease: alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The names are suggestive of the causes of the types of fatty liver disease. ALD is commonly associated with heavy alcohol consumption. On the other hand, liver health experts and researchers are yet to identify a conclusive cause of NAFLD. However, there are established links between NAFLD with obesity, hyperglycemia, elevated level of triglycerides in the blood – and also, with aging.

The heart-liver connection

Harvard Medical School published an article linking heart health and fatty liver disease, particularly NAFLD. The write-up explained that inflammation-causing compounds and other substances from a fat-afflicted liver may result in an atherosclerotic process in the arteries, clotting the blood that may lead to heart attack or stroke. Dr. Kathleen Corey, director of the Fatty Liver Disease Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital, in the article, said that “NAFLD increases the risk of heart disease independent of other traditional risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol.”

What the research says

A notable 2017 study reported that while moderate alcohol intake is associated with improved insulin sensitivity and decreased cardiovascular mortality in the general population, similar benefits in people with NAFLD remains largely unstudied. As such, a “strong recommendation of benefit of moderate alcohol use in NAFLD cannot be made.”

A more recent study had a similar conclusion. After examining the link of alcohol use with the risk of heart diseases in patients with NAFLD, researchers concluded that alcohol use is not associated with significant differences in risk factors for heart diseases. Simply put, in contrast to general population findings, alcohol use may not reduce the risk of heart disease in patients with NAFLD.

If you have a liver disease and are thinking of enjoying a glass of wine or a bottle of beer before going to bed, hoping that the alcohol will benefit your heart health, rethink that decision. Heart health benefits, derived from light to moderate alcohol consumption for people with liver disease, particularly NAFLD, remains to be inconclusive.

To better understand the heart-liver health connection, check out these articles:

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