UCL News


Even a modest intake can be bad for your health

27 March 2006

It's not just heavy drinkers who risk their livers.

For some, even two glasses of their favourite drink may be two too many. …

Medically what matters, in most cases, is the total amount of alcohol consumed and the age, genetic make-up, body build, gender and ethnicity of the drinker. A conference was recently held in London hosted by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and arranged by Alcohol in Moderation, an organisation that correlates worldwide research into the medical effects of alcohol.

The meeting heard Dr Marsha Morgan [Institute of Hepatology at UCL] discuss factors that influence the effect of alcohol on the liver. …

The bad news for the unfortunate minority with susceptible livers is that too much alcohol may be very little in terms of quantity; so little, in some cases, that it is impossible to designate a safe limit. For some, even two drinks a day could be two too many. …

Once people are drinking more than six units of alcohol a day the risk reaches a plateau. Dr Morgan has treated many modest drinkers for liver disease. She has also found that in 20 per cent of the cases where cirrhosis had initially been blamed on alcohol, some other cause was responsible.

Ideally - she told the assembled medical experts and wine and spirit traders with only the hint of a wry smile - men who have a propensity to develop liver damage shouldn't start drinking at all until they are 35, and women until they are approaching the menopause. This is because youthful livers are more vulnerable to alcohol than ageing ones.

Her evidence added support to the current concerns that some of the recent increase in alcoholic liver disease in Britain is related to heavy drinking in younger people. She also said that, because of their relative height and build, the livers of women are more likely to suffer, and to suffer more quickly, than those of men. …

Dr Thomas Stuttaford, 'The Times', 27 March 2006