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Research Summary

Metabolic and Biochemical Effects of Alcohol Consumption

Researchers performed biochemical tests on serum from 8396 subjects (3750 men and 4646 women, aged 51 ± 13 years) who reported their alcohol consumption in the week preceding baseline blood collection. The analysis describes the cross-sectional relation between self-reported alcohol consumption and a variety of metabolic and biochemical factors. The study found:

  • A linear increase in HDL-cholesterol and a linear decrease in insulin levels with increasing amounts of alcohol.
  • For most other factors (including liver enzymes, triglycerides, blood glucose, and c-reactive protein levels) there was a “J-shaped” relation—lower values with light drinking and higher values with the consumption of larger amounts of alcohol—as well as threshold values at which heavier drinking began to show adverse effects.
  • The most favorable values varied by the measure: lowest triglycerides at about 1 to 2 drinks/day, lowest c-reactive protein levels at about 1 drink/day, lowest blood sugar and alkaline phosphatase values at 1 to 3 drinks/day.

Comments:

A very high percentage of subjects in this study had lifetime alcohol dependence (32% of men and 16% of women), so the results of this study may not apply to the general population. The authors do not indicate whether there was a relationship between beverage of choice and dependence, nor do they report on the subjects’ patterns of drinking. The markers of liver dysfunction related to alcohol consumption showed little change with consumption below 2 to 3 drinks/day, confirming these amounts as thresholds consistent with heavy alcohol use. The findings of this study tend to support the “J-shaped” curve usually seen in epidemiologic studies: better health outcomes from light-to-moderate alcohol consumption, but adverse health effects from heavier drinking. R. Curtis Ellison, MD

Reference:

Whitfield JB, Heath AC, Madden PA, et al. Metabolic and biochemical effects of low-to-moderate alcohol consumption. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2013;37(4):575–586.

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