Study says Latinos at a Greater Risk of Developing Alcoholic Liver Disease

Medical News Today reported that a new study examining the role of ethnicity in determining the age of onset and severity of Alcoholic Liver Disease (ALD) has found that ethnicity is a major factor affecting the age and severity of different subtypes of the disease.

Results will be published in the March 2015 online-only issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Alcoholic liver disease is a spectrum of conditions that range from hepatic steatosis, which is fat deposition in the liver and it is reversible with sobriety, to alcoholic hepatitis which is a more severe condition characterized by extensive and severe inflammation in the liver and often requires hospitalization, said Valentina Medici, associate professor of internal medicine at the Sacramento, Calif., based UC Davis Health System as well as corresponding author for the study, in a news release.

The final stage is alcoholic cirrhosis, characterized by fibrosis or deposition of scar tissue in the liver. ALD develops in response to a long duration of high amounts of alcohol, but not all individuals develop ALD, the researchers stated.

ALD is very common and affects individuals of all ages, races, and socioeconomic status. It is the most common cause of liver-related death, accounting for more than 15,000 deaths every year.

“However, not everyone is affected by alcohol the same way. Even if the same amount of alcohol is consumed, the liver damage from alcohol in some people can be more severe than in others, suggesting that other factors, such as genes and environment, can influence the development of liver damage," Dr. Christopher L. Bowlus, professor and acting chief of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at UC Davis Health System, told Medical News Today.

Medici and her colleagues conducted a retrospective chart review of all patients with ALD who were admitted or were followed as outpatients at UC Davis Medical Center between 2002 and 2010. After excluding hepatitis-B infected and HIV-positive subjects, researchers reviewed the charts of 791 ALD patients, including 130 with alcoholic fatty liver, 154 with alcoholic hepatitis, and 507 with alcoholic cirrhosis.

In their news release, Medici said, "For the first time, we showed that Hispanics present at a four to 10 years younger age than Caucasians and African/Americans, and that ethnicity could predict the age of presentation of alcoholic fatty liver and alcoholic hepatitis. In addition, alcoholic Hispanics tend to be more frequently obese and diabetic than the other ethnicities. Also, Hispanics with alcoholic cirrhosis were more likely to be hospitalized than Caucasians, indicative of a possibly more severe disease."

"The development of ALD in Hispanics several years younger than whites ... did not appear to be due to other possible factors such as chronic viral hepatitis C, diabetes or obesity, all of which can cause liver damage," said Bowlus. "Genetic and environmental factors may play an important role as they can accelerate the onset and progression of ALD. There might also be differences in the pattern of drinking and type of alcohol consumed."

Researchers said the findings in this study are important for two reasons. First, they demonstrate the difference ethnicity has on the clinical manifestation of ALD. Second, they lay the ground work for future clinical and laboratory studies to understand the interactions between alcohol, genes, and the environment.

The study — titled "Ethnic Differences in Presentation and Severity of Alcoholic Liver Disease — is available online at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1530-0277/earlyview.