Findings of a long-term study in Sweden suggest that teenage drinking could result in liver problems in adulthood and that the recommendations for safe alcohol consumption among men might have to be reduced To avoid alcoholic liver disease, cut-off levels in some countries recommend 30 grams per day or approximately three drinks.
Researchers examined data from a national population-based study from 1969-1970 of more than 43,000 men who were enlisted in the military. During that time, enlistment was mandatory, and only about 2-3% of men were exempt due to disablement or disease.
They matched personal identity numbers from the enlistment data with records in the National Patient Register and the Causes of Death Register to determine if subjects had developed liver disease before the end of 2009. Findings were adjusted for smoking, drug use, and potential factors that would contribute to liver disease.
Indeed, data showed that alcohol use early in life was linked to a greater risk of developing liver disease. After 39 years, 383 men had developed severe liver disease, which was defined as liver cirrhosis, decompensated liver disease, liver failure, or death from liver disease. The increased risk had no threshold effect and was exacerbated in men who consumed about two drinks per day.
Before adjusting for other factors, the risk was significant for daily alcohol use to as low as six grams daily. In a release, lead author Dr. Hagström stated the following:
“If these results lead to lowering the cut-off levels for a ‘safe’ consumption of alcohol in men, and if men adhere to recommendations, we may see a reduced incidence of alcoholic liver disease in the future.”
The authors note that according to the 2014 World Health Organization global status report on health and alcohol, cirrhosis linked to alcohol consumption causes more than 490,000 deaths per year and that while there is no approved treatment for the disease, it is, in essence, completely preventable.