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Moderate alcohol intake reduces gallstone risk

Sun, 31 May 2009

Health researchers at the University of East Anglia have found that drinking two units of alcohol per day reduces the risk of developing gallstones by a third.

It was already known that alcohol intake has a protective effect against the formation of gallstones, but this new study establishes for the first time the precise quantitative effect of each unit of alcohol on the development of gallstones.

Using questionnaires, investigators measured the dietary habits of 25,639 men and women and followed them for a 10-year period, during which time 267 patients developed gallstones.

Participants in the study provided detailed information on the frequency and quantity of their alcohol intake. Researchers found that those who reported consuming two UK units of alcohol per day had a one-third reduction in their risk of developing gallstones.

Each unit of alcohol consumed per week reduced the chances of gallstones by three per cent. One UK unit of alcohol contains eight grams of alcohol; one standard drink in the US is equal to 14 grams of alcohol.

Researchers emphasized that their findings show the benefits of moderate alcohol intake but stress that excessive alcohol intake can cause health problems. Quantifying how much alcohol reduces the risk of gallstone development allows doctors to offer specific guidance without introducing the risk of excessive alcohol consumption.

"These findings significantly increase our understanding of the development of gallstones," said Dr Andrew Hart, senior lecturer in gastroenterology at UEA's School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice.

"Once we examine all the factors related to their development in our study in the UK, including diet, exercise, body weight and alcohol intake, we can develop a precise understanding of what causes gallstones and how to prevent them."

Dr Hart will present his findings on at the Digestive Disease Week annual meeting in Chicago on Sunday May 31.