- 1Hepatology Research Unit, Dpt. Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, Liver Research Center Ghent, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
- 2Knowledge Center for Health Ghent, Ghent University and Ghent University Hospital, Ghent, Belgium.
- 3Gut-Liver Immunopharmacology Unit, Department of Basic and Applied Medical Sciences, Liver Research Center Ghent, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.
Background and aims: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is defined as fatty liver disease in the absence of heavy alcohol consumption. However, the impact of light-to-moderate alcohol consumption on progressive NAFLD and on mortality is presently unclear.
Methods: Medline, Embase, OATD and OpenGrey were systematically searched up to November 2022 for relevant cross-sectional, case-control and cohort studies. The study outcomes were progressive NAFLD-steatohepatitis (NASH), fibrosis, cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and mortality. The entire review process was performed by two independent reviewers. A narrative synthesis was performed for all outcomes, while meta-analyses, subgroup analyses and publication bias assessment were performed depending on the number of articles.
Results: After study selection, 32 articles were included. Cohort studies reported that moderate alcohol intake increased the risk for advanced fibrosis (pooled OR 1.56; 95% CI 1.08-2.26 and HR 1.39; 95% CI 1.22-1.57), which was not observed in cross-sectional studies. Alcohol use also increased the risk of developing liver cirrhosis and HCC, but seemed to lower the risk of steatohepatitis. Light alcohol consumption protected against all-cause mortality, an effect not observed in NAFLD patients with moderate intake.
Conclusions: There is wide heterogeneity in studies on the impact of alcohol on progressive NAFLD. Nevertheless, cohort studies reported a significant harmful effect of moderate alcohol consumption on the occurrence of advanced fibrosis. Further research is needed to make valid recommendations with regard to alcohol consumption in patients with NAFLD.