Alcohol-related pathology from head to toe; a synopsis of alcohol-related diseases

Nutrition & Food Science

ISSN: 0034-6659

Article publication date: 1 December 2005



(2005), "Alcohol-related pathology from head to toe; a synopsis of alcohol-related diseases", Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 35 No. 6.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Alcohol-related pathology from head to toe; a synopsis of alcohol-related diseases

Alcohol-related pathology from head to toe; a synopsis of alcohol-related diseases, Royal College of Pathologists, 16 June 2005

This symposium was attended by about 100 people mainly from the medical profession. However the information provided was excellent and would have been of interest to a wider audience.

As promised the programme really did cover the effect of alcohol on the body from head to toe. Papers included:

Effects on the brain – psychiatric problems by Prof Roberta Ward from Belgium which indicated the following learning points:

  • Genetic succeptibility to the effects of alcohol.

  • Dopamine release which is associated with pleasurable experiences is enhanced by alcohol and may be an important factor for continual alcohol craving.

  • Acetaldehyde may be particularly damaging to brain function.

Dietary interactions: Thiamine, alcohol and brain function by Allan Thomson from University College London emphasised the important role that thiamine has in brain function. Lack of thiamine to the brain cells can have severe effects on the brain. This deficiency of thiamine can be associated with a reduced absorption due to alcohol inhibition and also due to malnutrition.

Quality of life (QoL) measures and alcohol misuse by Dr John Foster of Middlesex University London showed that QoL scores for alcohol dependant individuals was poor. The scores improved with giving up alcohol. Relapse at around three months was common. Sleep disturbances and inabillty to sleep was found to be one of the main predictors for relapse.

Cardiac problems, clinical aspects by Dr Peter Richardson St Thomas' London showed that:

  • Alcohol in excess was related to hypertension.

  • Alcoholic cardio-myopathy may result from alcohol consumption in excess of 80 mg per day for over ten years.

  • Binge drinking may cause arrhythmias.

  • Both hypertension and cardio-myopathy improve with abstinence.

  • Protection of the coronary arteries may be due to antioxidant phenols and antithrombotic effects.

Clinical aspects of alcoholic liver disease by Dr David Sherman General Middlesex Hospital London spoke about alcoholic liver disease being the most common form of chronic liver disease. Fatty liver affects 80-100 per cent of those men consuming in excess of 80 g alcohol per day and women consuming in excess of 40 g alcohol per day. The effects are largely reversible if alcohol is avoided.

If abstinence does not occur cirrhosis can develop and 2 per cent of those with this condition develop hepatocellular carcinoma.

Alcohol and the gastrointestinal tract Prof Helmer Seitz of Germany provided the following learning points:

  • Chronic alcohol consumption increases the risk of upper digestive tract and colon cancers.

  • Acetaldehyde the first metabolite of alcohol is carcinogenic.

  • Chronic alcohol consumption can lead to mal-absorption.

Alcohol myopathy: effects on limbs by Prof Victor Preedy of King's College London emphasised that:

  • Chronic alcohol misuse is associated with cramps, myalgia, difficulties in gait and muscle weakness.

  • The white muscle fibres are particularly affected by alcohol abuse.

  • Chronic alcohol myopathy is reversible with abstinence.

  • Chronic alcohol myopathy may occur in the absence of liver disease.

Skin problems in alcohol mis-users Dr Luz Higgins of King's College London explained that:

  • Alcohol misuse is common amongst patients with skin disease.

  • Alcohol may be a trigger for the development of psoriasis.

The conference was thought provoking and interesting and especially good as each speaker was asked to provide a number of key learning points.

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