(CBS News) A British study looking into the risk factors for alcoholic liver disease has concluded that environmental factors far outweigh genetics in determining who is likely to contract the potentially fatal illness.
The University of Sheffield conducted a study, published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, among 291 "heavy drinkers" with liver disease, as well as 208 participants without ALD (the control group.) Researchers collected data on the family history and livestyle of participants to judge how likely someone was to contract ALD.
Participants were asked questions about their drinking behaviours at different stages across their lives, and were asked to grade his or her relatives' drinking behaviours as abstinent, light/social, moderate or heavy.
The results showed that the relatives of both groups had similar drinking habits, with similar proportions of each recorded as being abstinent (15.8 per cent for patients vs 16.1 per cent for controls), light/social (35.4 per cent vs 37.4per cent ), moderate (30.4 per cent vs 27.4per cent), and heavy (18.3 per cent vs 19.7 per cent) drinkers.
The frequency of any liver disease in the relatives of patients and controls was also similar, at 3.3 per cent vs 3.1 per cent. Furthermore, only a slightly higher percentage (12 per cent) of relatives of patients were reported to have ALD (defined as liver disease in a heavy drinker), compared to 9.7 per cent of the relatives of the control group.
Dr. Dermot Gleeson, who led the study, said, "Our results point towards environmental factors as being more significant than genetic predisposition in determining the risk of a heavy drinker developing ALD. Although genetic predisposition may have an impact, we believe that this is likely to be modest. Environmental factors, for example diet, other medications, and infections may well have greater influence on a person's risk."