Heavyweight Drinkers

Alcohol consumption at high levels may be harder on people who are overweight

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Heavy drinking can burden anyone’s liver. But in people who are also overweight, heavy drinking may really push the liver past its limits.

Study results on alcohol consumption in normal weight people and overweight people were recently presented at the International Liver Congress.

The results suggested that overweight people who drink heavily were at higher risk for liver troubles than normal weight drinkers.

"Talk to your doctor about safe drinking."

Daniele Prati, MD, a Scientific Committee Member of the European Association for the Study of the Liver, spoke in a recent press release about research being presented at The International Liver Congress concerning alcohol consumption in overweight people.

“It’s well known that alcohol and a person’s weight are major causes of chronic liver disease.... [T]he research found the combination of a woman’s drinking habits and weight has an important effect on liver health and life expectancy,” said Dr. Prati.

Researchers from the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at University College London in the UK presented study results at the Liver Congress on 107,742 women who had participated in an ongoing study that required each woman to report her height, weight and alcohol intake.

For this study, the researchers grouped the women into either normal or overweight categories based on their body mass index (BMI) scores. Women with a BMI below 25 were considered normal and women with a BMI of 25 or higher were considered overweight.

The women were split further into heavy or light drinking groups. Women who consumed 0-15 servings of alcohol per week were considered light drinkers. Women who consumed 15 or more servings of alcohol per week were considered heavy drinkers.

A total of 90 women in the study had chronic liver disease, 36 of whom had died. Women in the high BMI and heavy drinking categories were roughly four times more likely to have chronic liver disease compared to women in the low BMI and light drinking categories.

Women with high BMI and heavy drinking were roughly twice as likely than women in the low BMI and heavy drinking categories to have chronic liver disease. Women with high BMI and light drinking ranked closely to women with low BMI and light drinking for chronic liver disease.

“Based on this research we know that a person with a low BMI and high alcoholic intake has a greater risk of developing chronic liver disease compared to a woman with a high BMI who doesn’t drink very much,” said Dr. Prati.

In a separate study, researchers from Hopital Pitie Salpetriere in Paris, France looked at a group of people with alcohol-related end-stage liver disease.

The study included 100 patients that had received a liver transplant.  Among the patients, 77 percent had alcohol-related liver cirrhosis, scar tissue build up in the liver, and 23 percent had liver cancer.  

Only 14 percent of patients with liver cirrhosis were overweight compared to 54 percent of liver cancer patients that were overweight. Among the liver cirrhosis patients, 22 percent were diabetic. Of the liver cancer patients, 43 percent were diabetic.

“Fatty liver and alcohol have long been known as risk factors for [liver cancer], but this study tested their combined effect in patients with alcohol cirrhosis,” said Dr. Prati.

“These findings show patients suffering from alcohol cirrhosis who also have a history of fatty liver disease, obesity or type 2 diabetes have a higher risk for developing liver cancer,” Dr. Prati continued.

These study findings were presented at The International Liver Congress of the European Association for the Study of the Liver in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on April 24-28, 2013. The studies referenced in this article have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

No funding or conflicts of interest were made available to the public.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 30, 2013
Last Updated:
November 6, 2013