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Alcohol-Linked Fatty Liver Disease More Fatal for Women
  • Posted January 29, 2024

Alcohol-Linked Fatty Liver Disease More Fatal for Women

Fatty liver disease can cause liver damage and can be one health effect of long-term heavy drinking.

Now, research shows that the illness can prove even more deadly for women who drink than for men.

Also called steatotic liver disease, the condition involves the steady accumulation of excess fat in the body's major blood-cleansing organ.

An impaired liver can have a major downstream effect on health, noted study lead author Dr. Susan Cheng.

“Steatotic liver disease is a major and increasingly prevalent condition that is likely an underlying precursor to many conditions, including those involving the heart,” said Cheng, who directs the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging at Cedar-Sinai's Smidt Heart Institute in Los Angeles.

"We are paying even more attention to steatotic liver disease because we are seeing how it tracks closely with established cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes," Cheng added in a Cedars-Sinai news release.

Not all forms of the disease are caused by excessive alcohol use, however. Two subsets of steatotic liver disease are linked to excessive drinking: Alcohol-related liver disease (ALD) and metabolic dysfunction-associated and alcohol-related liver disease (MetALD).

The new study was published in the February issue of the Journal of Hepatology.

In their research, Cheng's group used U.S. federal government health data on over 10,000 adults. This group's health was tracked beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As part of the data, all participants underwent liver scans and other medical exams.

About a fifth of the study group developed some form of fatty liver disease over time, the researchers found, and men were twice as likely to have the condition as women.

However, over a follow-up period averaging about 27 years, women with fatty liver disease had twice the odds of dying compared to men.

When it came to the odds of dying from alcohol-related fatty liver disease, specifically, the gender gap remained.

Women with ALD had a 160% higher risk of dying than men with the condition, and they also had an 83% higher odds of dying from MetALD, Cheng's team found.

The 'Met' in MetALD refer to metabolic issues -- obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol -- that can also trigger fat buildup in the liver.

According to the researchers, women with any of these risk factors need to be especially cognizant of their drinking, since a combination of heavy drinking plus metabolic issues make fat build up in the liver more likely.

It's still not clear, however, why the female liver may be especially vulnerable to these changes. Cheng and her team plan more research to figure that out, as well as identifying how women's risks might be reduced.

More information

Find out more about fatty liver disease at the Cleveland Clinic.

SOURCE: Cedars-Sinai, news release, Jan. 26, 2024

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