Women are more susceptible to the damaging effects of alcohol than men because they are generally smaller in stature and have less body water than men, according to a leading Houston hepatologist.
"As a result, women who are already predisposed by genetics to have liver disease should limit their alcohol consumption or stay away from alcohol altogether," said Dr. Howard Monsour, chief of hepatology at Houston Methodist Hospital.
"There is a misconception that you have to be an alcoholic to develop serious liver disease. Not true. In fact, if you have a genetic disposition, drinking more than a moderate amount could be very damaging, especially for women.
About 20 to 30 percent of the population has a genetic disposition to cirrhosis of the liver and Monsour said it is important for people to know if they have a family history of cirrhosis before making the decisions to drink large amounts of alcohol.
"One drink a day might be too much for a woman who has a genetic pre-disposition to cirrhosis of the liver," Monsour said. "One drink for a woman has about twice the effect as it does for the same amount consumed by a man."
The liver stores energy and nutrients and produces proteins and enzymes necessary for optimum health. It protects the body from disease and eliminates toxins like alcohol.
"When women drink the same amount less is dispersed and the concentration is higher," Monsour said. "They also have a lower activity of a metabolizing enzyme in the stomach called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH)."
ADH helps convert alcohol to acetaldehyde, which is eventually is metabolized to carbon dioxide and water. This causes a larger amount of the alcohol to reach the blood and eventually in susceptible persons can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, a disease that normally has no visible signs until liver damage is too extensive.
Monsour adds that people who think drinking a beer is better than hard liquor are misguided. One beer is equal to one shot of whiskey or one, four-ounce glass of wine. The alcohol content is the same in all three drinks.
"I know a lot of people will be venturing out to parties and family gatherings this holiday season and drinking probably more alcohol than normal. The key is to make sure it doesn't become a habit," Monsour said. "Knowing your limit at all times will help you avoid damaging liver disease and possibly a liver transplant. It's important to think before you drink."
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