Alcoholic liver disease refers to a broad range of liver diseases, including alcoholic fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis. Alcoholic liver disease is among the most common liver diseases in the United States; however, it varies largely by ethnicity. A new study examining the incidence of ethnicity in determining the age of onset and severity of cirrhosis and other liver diseases, and comparing risk factors for its disease continuation among ethnic groups, has found that ethnicity is a major factor affecting the age and severity of different alcohol-related injuries to the liver. Valentina Medici, associate professor of internal medicine at UC Davis Health System as well as corresponding author for the study, explained how the study was conducted and why the findings are important to the Hispanic community and the health professionals who care for them.
“Alcoholic liver disease is a spectrum of conditions that range from hepatic steatosis (fatty liver), which is fat deposition in the liver and it is reversible with sobriety, to alcoholic hepatitis which is a more severe condition characterized by extensive and severe inflammation in the liver and often requires hospitalization. The final stage is alcoholic cirrhosis, characterized by fibrosis or deposition of scar tissue in the liver. Alcoholic Liver Disease (ALD) develops in response to a long duration of high amounts of alcohol, but not all individuals develop ALD.”
The results of her recent study showed that even when other factors, such as obesity, diabetes, and HIV infection are removed, more Hispanic people get ALD, and they get it at younger ages.
“For the first time, we showed that Hispanics present at a four to 10 years younger age than Caucasians and African/Americans, and that ethnicity could predict the age of presentation of alcoholic fatty liver and alcoholic hepatitis. In addition, alcoholic Hispanics tend to be more frequently obese and diabetic than the other ethnicities. Also, Hispanics with alcoholic cirrhosis were more likely to be hospitalized than Caucasians, indicative of a possibly more severe disease.”
The study suggests that Hispanics should be aware of their increased risk, drink only moderately or none at all, and frequently get check ups, including blood tests that check the health of their liver. However, the author of the study was astute in pointing out that Hispanic ethnicities aren’t the only people who should heed these warnings — anyone who drinks more than a moderate amount of alcohol is at risk for ALD, and genetics may play a significant role in other ethnicities as well.