Alcohol and the liver

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Purpose of review

To highlight salient recent discoveries and results of clinical trials in alcoholic liver disease (ALD). The burden of care for ALD patients is hefty and the prevalence of alcohol abuse may be increasing in both the developed and the underdeveloped world.

Recent findings

Molecular mechanisms of alcoholism are being identified but not of the predisposition to alcoholic liver injury, except perhaps for polymorphism of a cytotoxic T-cell antigen. The Mayo End-stage Liver Disease (MELD) score performs well in assessing the prognosis of ALD; serological biomarkers for predicting ALD outcome are of uncertain value. Concomitant liver disease (e.g., obesity, hepatitis C, and iron overload) aggravates the severity of ALD; conversely, alcohol abuse may be a cryptic co-factor in some cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver. For alcoholic hepatitis, nutritional support is the mainstay of treatment; steroids are considered by some (but not all) as safe and effective therapy, whereas manipulations of tumor necrosis factor-alpha activity have been disappointing, or of unproven benefit at best. In liver transplantation for ALD, methods are being devised to monitor recidivism and to ameliorate its risk and that of co-morbid psychiatric conditions.


Much of the pathogenesis of ALD has been identified and headway has been made in predicting its prognosis. However, much remains to be done to elucidate the molecular genetics of the risk of developing ALD and in formulating safe, effective therapies for alcoholic hepatitis.

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