Although the association between alcohol intake and gallstone disease has been characterized previously, the relation between alcohol consumption patterns, specific types of alcoholic beverages, and risk for cholelithiasis has not been addressed systematically. These issues were examined prospectively in a cohort of men who were free from symptomatic gallstone disease in 1986 and were followed to 1996. During follow-up, 2.4% of the men reported newly symptomatic gallstones that were diagnosed by ultrasonography or x-ray, or a cholecystectomy.
After adjusting for other known or suspected risk factors, an increase in the amount of alcohol consumed was associated with a decreased risk of symptomatic gallstone disease. An increase in frequency of alcohol consumption also was related to decreased risk. Combining the reports of quantity and frequency of alcohol intake, a consumption pattern that reflected frequent intake (5–7 days/week) of any given amount of alcohol was associated with a decreased risk, as compared with nondrinkers. In contrast, infrequent alcohol intake (1–2 days/week) showed no significant association with risk. All alcoholic beverage types were inversely associated with risk of symptomatic gallstone disease, independent of patterns of consumption.
These results suggest that frequent, moderate intake of alcohol decreases the risk for symptomatic gallstone disease, in contrast to infrequent or episodic alcohol intake. Recommendations regarding the benefit of moderate quantities of alcohol for gallstone disease should be weighed against the potential health hazards of alcohol consumption.