News from Hepatitis Week of Feb. 23, 2003 / Vol. 3 No. 08

Hepatitis C Patients Encouraged to Avoid Any Alcohol

How much alcohol is too much in hastening liver damage in hepatitis C patients continues to be unknown, but a new study suggests that such patients should avoid consuming any alcoholic beverages to be safe.

As reported in the March issue of the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, University of Washington researchers reviewed the literature regarding the combined effects of alcohol and hepatitis C, focusing primarily on how alcohol influences the natural history, pathogenesis and treatment of liver disease.

The researchers found that individuals infected with the hepatitis C virus who drink alcohol in excess have more severe cellular injury, more rapid disease progression and a higher frequency of cirrhosis and liver cancer. They noted that alcohol use also appears to decrease response rates to interferon therapy.

"Patients with chronic HCV should be encouraged to avoid alcohol; however, the threshold above which alcohol results in accelerated liver disease remains to be determined," concluded the researchers.

Researcher Dr. Margaret C. Shuhart told Medical Week that most physicians advise their hepatitis C patients to abstain from alcohol since a safe threshold has not been determined.

"Having said that, I personally tell my patients that an occasional drink at a special occasion is unlikely to be harmful. However, I always advise strict abstinence in those who have a history of alcohol abuse/dependence," said Shuhart, of Seattle's Harborview Medical Center, which is managed by the University of Washington

Shuhart said a National Institutes of Health-funded study is being conducted at the University of California at San Francisco by Dr. Marion Peters that is currently looking into whether some kind of a threshold of safe alcohol consumption exists for hepatitis C sufferers.

Other sources: Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 2003; 36(3):242-252