26 August 2022 In General Health

BACKGROUND: Gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT) levels in the blood can be a sensitive marker of liver injury but the extent to which they give insight into risk across multiple outcomes in a clinically useful way remains uncertain.

METHODS: Using data from 293,667 UK Biobank participants, the relationship of GGT concentrations to self-reported alcohol intake and adiposity markers were investigated. We next investigated whether GGT predicted liver-related, cardiovascular (CV) or all-cause mortality, and potentially improved CV risk prediction.

FINDINGS: Higher alcohol intake and greater waist circumference (WC) were associated with higher GGT; the association was stronger for alcohol with evidence of a synergistic effect of WC. Higher GGT concentrations were associated with multiple outcomes. Compared to a GGT of 14.5 U/L (lowest decile), values of 48 U/L for women and 60 U/L for men (common upper limits of 'normal') had hazard ratios (HRs) for liver-related mortality of 1.83 (95% CI 1.60-2.11) and 3.25 (95% CI 2.38-4.42) respectively, for CV mortality of 1.21 (95% CI 1.14-1.28) and 1.43 (95% CI 1.27-1.60) and for all-cause mortality of 1.15 (95% CI 1.12-1.18) and 1.31 (95% CI 1.24-1.38). Adding GGT to a risk algorithm for CV mortality reclassified an additional 1.24% (95% CI 0.14-2.34) of participants across a binary 5% 10-year risk threshold.

INTERPRETATION: Our study suggests that a modest elevation in GGT levels should trigger a discussion with the individual to review diet and lifestyle including alcohol intake and consideration of formal liver disease and CV risk assessment if not previously done.

FUNDING: British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence Grant (grant number RE/18/6/34217), NHS Research Scotland (grant number SCAF/15/02), the Medical Research Council (grant number MC_UU_00022/2); and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office (grant number SPHSU17).

24 January 2020 In Liver Disease

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is defined by hepatic steatosis in the presence of alcohol intake within safe limits, defined by guidelines of scientific associations (usually 20 g or 2 units/day in women, 30 g or 3 units in men). The diagnosis is usually followed by medical counseling of total abstinence, in order to prevent disease progression.

This policy has been challenged by epidemiological studies, suggesting that the risk of liver disease and disease progression is lower in modest drinkers than in total abstainers. We revised the literature on the effects of modest alcohol intake on disease burden. Epidemiological data may suffer from several potential biases (recall bias for retrospective analyses, difficulties in the calculation of g/day), limiting their validity.

Prospective data suggest that NAFLD patients with regular alcohol intake, although within the safe thresholds, are at higher risk of liver disease progression, including hepatocellular carcinoma; a detrimental effect of modest alcohol drinking is similarly observed in liver disease of viral etiology. Alcohol intake is also a risk factor for extrahepatic cancers, particularly breast, oral, and pharyngeal cancers, with gender difference and no floor effect, which outweigh the possible beneficial effects on cardiovascular system, also derived from retrospective studies.

Finally, the negative effects of the calorie content of alcohol on dietary restriction and weight loss, the pivotal intervention to reduce NAFLD burden, should be considered. In summary, the policy of counseling NAFLD patients for alcohol abstinence should be maintained.

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