In a new study investigating ethnicity as a factor in developing alcoholic liver disease (ALD), researchers have found that Hispanics who drink are at a significantly greater risk than Caucasians or African Americans. The research indicates that ALD, which is the most common type of liver disease in the U.S., is majorly impacted by ethnicity. Ethnicity is a factor in the age of onset of the disease, its severity and how it progresses. The news should serve as a reminder to Hispanics that drinking above and beyond moderate amounts carries serious health risks.
What Is Alcoholic Liver Disease?
Alcoholic liver disease is a range of liver conditions caused by excessive and long-term drinking. Not all heavy drinkers will develop ALD, but many will. The risk of having it increases with the amount of alcohol consumed and the length of time over which a person has been a heavy drinker. In its early phases, ALD is characterized by hepatic steatosis, or fatty liver. Fat deposits form on the liver, but this can be reversed with sobriety.
The next stage is alcoholic hepatitis, which is more serious and includes inflammation in the liver. The inflammation can become severe and require hospitalization. The final and most serious stage of ALD is alcoholic cirrhosis, which includes fibrosis, the development of scar tissue in the liver. Most symptoms of ALD don’t appear until later stages of the disease, but can include pain in the abdomen, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, jaundice, itching, difficulty with thinking and memory, lightheadedness and numbness in legs and feet.\
Hispanics and ALD
ALD is a common disease, but it is also mysterious in that alcohol is not the only factor. Some drinkers never develop ALD, while others get seriously ill. More than 15,000 people die every year from ALD, and factors in its severity can include genetics and environment. The current research, which was conducted at the University of California Davis, investigated the possibility that ethnicity is also a factor in who gets ALD and how severely it develops.
The researchers looked at all patients admitted to the UC Davis Health System for ALD between 2002 and 2010. They found that ethnicity does play a major role in the development of the disease and that Hispanics, when compared to other ethnicities, develop ALD between four and ten years earlier. They also found that when Hispanics had alcoholic cirrhosis, the later stage of the disease, they were more likely to be hospitalized, a finding that indicates greater severity of ALD.
Hispanics in the study were also more often obese and more likely to have diabetes. It is known that the resistance to insulin seen in type II diabetes can also cause liver damage, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The researchers concluded that the presence of obesity and type II diabetes could be one factor contributing to a greater incidence and severity of ALD in Hispanics in the study. Even so, the researchers excluded those patients with type II diabetes and still found that Hispanics suffered more from ALD, which means that there are other factors at play.
The current research is important in that it brings to light the greater risk that Hispanics take when drinking heavily. It also shows the role that obesity can play in the development of ALD. In light of this research, all Hispanics should be cautious about drinking and weight gain. With education, more people will hopefully make good health choices and avoid suffering from ALD.