Colon, Age and Alcohol Don't Mix

Diverticulosis risk goes up with alcohol consumption and aging

(RxWiki News) If you drink alcohol and are over 50, there's more reason to get the pipes checked out, even if you feel fine. A new study found that drinking alcohol increases the chance of developing diverticulosis in the colon. 

Few symptoms are felt at first. But not watching out for it can lead to more serious problems and pain later on. 

Researchers said the more alcohol patients consume and the older they get, the greater their chances of developing diverticulosis. By drinking alcohol, the odds of having the problem increased almost two-fold among patients.

Researchers said the findings will help "prevent, or limit, any associated morbidity and mortality."

"Get a colonoscopy at least once a year."

In diverticulosis, bulging sacs form in the colon. If these sacs become inflamed, the problem is called diverticulitis, which can cause severe pain and tenderness in the abdomen.

Researchers, led by Ala Sharara, MD, from the Division of Gastroenterology at the American University of Beirut Medical Center in Lebanon, aimed to find what could lead to this digestive problem. The study included 746 patients, averaging about 61 years of age, who were having a colonoscopy at the university's endoscopy center. The patients did not have any diverticulosis symptoms and fewer than half were male.

Participants were recruited between August 2006 and December 2010, and each completed a questionnaire on diet and social activities. None had a family history of colon problems. Researchers then looked at previous studies discussing what may cause the sacs as well as how often people from other countries would develop them.

They found that almost a third of patients had the diverticulosis. Among these cases, about 72 percent were found on the left side of the colon, 6 percent were on the right and 23 percent had it on both sides.

Previous studies showed that between 22 and 35 percent of Europeans and other westerners typically had it on the left side of their colon while 2 to 5 percent of Africans have it on both sides.

"In addition to age, the second identifiable risk factor in this study was alcohol use," researchers wrote in their report.

"This finding is interesting and deserves further investigation as it may offer one potential explanation for the East-West paradox in disease prevalence and phenotype."

Compared to patients in their 50s, those between 60 and 69 years of age are two and a half times as likely to have the problem. The odds for people older than 70 increases three-fold. And the more abnormal growths patients have, the more likely they were to have the colon problem as well.

A person's level of physical activity, body mass index, diet and bowel habits were not linked with the colon problem.

Researchers stress that alcohol may not be the exact cause of diverticulosis.

"However, the strength of the association noted with alcohol suggests a close relationship, stronger than any dietary component studied to date, and therefore deserves serious consideration and further investigation," they wrote in their report.

The authors note that since they only looked at patients who didn't have symptoms and who were older than 50, the results may not be applicable to the rest of the population. They also didn't look at what could cause diverticulosis.

In addition, alcohol consumption differs from country to country, which may also affect results.

The study was published online November 15 in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose, and funding information was not available. 

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Review Date: 
November 28, 2012