Laboratory test based assessment of WHO alcohol risk drinking levels

Scand J Clin Lab Invest. Feb-Apr 2019;79(1-2):58-64. doi: 10.1080/00365513.2019.1571625. Epub 2019 Feb 5.


Low-risk thresholds for alcohol use differ across various national guidelines. To assess the novel WHO risk drinking levels in light of alcohol-sensitive common laboratory tests, we analysed biomarkers of liver status, inflammation and lipid profiles from a population-based survey of individuals classified to abstainers and different WHO risk drinking levels defined in terms of mean alcohol consumption per day. The study included 22,327 participants aged 25-74 years from the National FINRISK Study. Data on alcohol use, health status, diet, body weight and lifestyle (smoking, coffee consumption and physical activity) were recorded from structured interviews. Alcohol data from self-reports covering the past 12 months were used to categorize the participants into subgroups of abstainers and WHO risk drinking categories representing low, moderate, high and very high risk drinkers. Serum liver enzymes (GGT, ALT), C-reactive protein (CRP) and lipid profiles were measured using standard laboratory techniques. Alcohol risk category was roughly linearly related with the occurrence of elevated values for GGT, ALT and CRP. Alcohol drinking also significantly influenced the incidence of abnormalities in serum lipids. Significantly higher odds for abnormal GGT, ALT and altered lipid profiles remained in alcohol drinkers even after adjustment for age, waist circumference, physical inactivity, smoking and coffee consumption. A more systematic use of laboratory tests during treatment of individuals classified to WHO risk drinking categories may improve the assessment of alcohol-related health risks. Follow-ups of biomarker responses may also prove to be useful in health interventions aimed at reducing alcohol consumption.

Keywords: Ethanol; harm reduction; inflammation; lipid; liver.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alanine Transaminase / blood*
  • Alcohol Abstinence / statistics & numerical data*
  • Alcohol Drinking / blood*
  • Body Weight
  • C-Reactive Protein / metabolism*
  • Coffee / adverse effects
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet / methods
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Lipids / blood*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk
  • Smoking / physiopathology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • World Health Organization
  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase / blood*


  • Coffee
  • Lipids
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase
  • Alanine Transaminase