Objective: Moderate alcohol consumption has been reported to be inversely associated with cardiovascular disease and total mortality. The importance of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is increasing and many NAFLD patients suffer from cardiovascular disease. In these patients, moderate alcohol consumption could be beneficial. The aim of this study was to investigate whether low alcohol intake, consistent with the diagnosis of NAFLD, is associated with fibrosis progression in established NAFLD.
Material and methods: Seventy-one patients originally referred because of chronically elevated liver enzymes and diagnosed with biopsy-proven NAFLD were re-evaluated. A validated questionnaire combined with an oral interview was used to assess weekly alcohol consumption and the frequency of episodic drinking. Significant fibrosis progression in NAFLD was defined as progression of more than one fibrosis stage or development of endstage liver disease during follow-up.
Results: Mean follow-up (SD) was 13.8 (1.2) years between liver biopsies. At follow-up, 17 patients (24%) fulfilled the criteria for significant fibrosis progression. The proportion of patients reporting heavy episodic drinking at least once a month was higher among those with significant fibrosis progression (p=0.003) and a trend towards higher weekly alcohol consumption was also seen (p=0.061). In a multivariate binary logistic regression analysis, heavy episodic drinking (p<0.001) and insulin resistance (p<0.01) were independently associated with significant fibrosis progression.
Conclusions: Moderate alcohol consumption, consistent with the diagnosis of NAFLD to be set, is associated with fibrosis progression in NAFLD. These patients should be advised to refrain from heavy episodic drinking.