U.K. researchers say that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol protects against the development of gallstones.
Analysis of data from 25,000 men and women showed that consuming two units a day cuts the chance of developing gallstones by a third.
Even though gallstones are very common, symptoms and complications are only seen in three out of 10 cases.
At a U.S. conference, delegates heard that alcohol reduces cholesterol in the bile from which gallstones form.
Data from a large study was used by researchers to look at the link between diet and cancer in men and women at an age range of 45-74.
Alcohol consumption was compared with the risk of developing symptomatic gallstones over a 10-year period.
Those that developed the condition were at an average age of 62 and more than two-thirds were women.
The ones in the highest alcohol group had a 32% lower risk than those who drank no or little alcohol.
The risk of gallstones fell 3% for each unit of alcohol drunk extra per week.
The researchers said that its been suggested that alcohol could reduce gallstones through its effects on cholesterol, but the magnitude of the effect had not been calculated.
Gallstones are formed in the gallbladder from bile and are made of hardened cholesterol.
It is believed that one in three women and one in six men get gallstones at some point in their life, but they are more common in adults that are older.
Other factors are obesity, rapid weight loss, medications and pregnancy.
A clinical lecturer at the University of East Anglia and a specialist registrar in gastroenterology, Dr. Paul Banim, said alcohol was known to increase levels of “good” HDL cholesterol which was also known to be protective against cardiovascular disease and can alter the composition of cholesterol in the bile. Banim was the study leader for the research.
He said that excessive alcohol intake can create health problems, but quantifying the amount alcohol reduces the risk of gallstone development allow doctors to offer specific guidance.
Dr. Andrew Hart, Banim’s colleague and a senior lecturer in gastroenterology, said the findings boosted their understanding of how gallstones are formed.
“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.”
President of the British Society of Gastroenterology, professor Chris Hawkey, said the study was interesting but should be interpreted with caution due to it only measuring an association.
“Nevertheless, previous research has found similar findings and it seems likely to be a real effect.”
“The University of East Anglia are producing interesting data on consumption of particular foods and alcohol – for example a recent study from that unit suggests that oily fish may protect against ulcerative colitis.”
“Moderate alcohol below recommended limits is associated with good health. But alcohol is addictive and drinkers must be careful not to escalate their intake.”
The findings were presented at an annual meeting in Chicago at the Digestive Disease Week.
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