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Even Non-heavy Drinking May Lead to Liver Problems, Says New Study

Even consuming modest amounts of alcohol could have dire effects on your liver, research suggests.
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard

It may be common knowledge that drinking too much alcohol isn't exactly a health-conscious choice. That's why you might do your best to limit how many glasses of wine you enjoy during dinner or stick to a certain number of cans of beer when you pick up your favorite craft brew. While that's definitely not a bad thing, a new study has found that even a moderate amount of alcohol can lead to serious liver problems.

In the research by Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine that was published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 2,629 adults who identified as current alcohol drinkers took part in the Framingham Heart Study. Participants answered questions regarding their drinking habits while vibration-controlled transient elastography was used to determine the condition of their livers.

The findings showed that various drinking habits including non-heavy alcohol use were connected to fibrosis, which is when the tissue becomes thick and scarred, as well as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).


"Our results reinforce the importance of encouraging all patients to reduce alcohol intake as much as possible and to at least adhere to current U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommended limits," explained corresponding author Michelle T. Long MD, MSc, associate professor of medicine, according to a news release published by EurekAlert!

"In addition, our finding that multiple alcohol use patterns associated with increased fibrosis and/or at-risk NASH merits further investigation into the importance of how patients use alcohol beyond simply quantifying the total amount of consumption," noted Long, according to EurekAlert!

Adhering to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025,  the CDC defines "moderate drinking" as one alcoholic drink or less per day for women and two or less for men. However, Dana Ellis Hunnes Ph.D., MPH, RD, senior clinical dietitian at UCLA medical center, assistant professor at UCLA Fielding school of public health, and author of Recipe for Survival, suggests that you may not want to consume even a modest amounts of alcohol in order to keep your liver safe, healthy, and in proper working condition.

"I suppose it doesn't surprise me," Hunnes tells Eat This, Not That! in response to the study's findings. "We've been hearing for a while now that no amount of alcohol may be fully safe!"

When it comes to why drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol on occasion might lead to health issues that can impact your liver along with other potential health problems, Huness explains that "your liver still needs to process [the alcohol]."

"[Alcohol] is still hundreds of added calories per sitting, depending on the drink type and amount," she adds. "Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is related to too much visceral fat and calories—plus the added stress of processing alcohol. [This] leads to scarring of the liver."

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more about Desirée