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woman drinking a glass of wine

study published online in Lancet Public Health investigated whether the risk of cirrhosis of the liver in middle-aged women varies by whether or not alcohol is drunk with meals, or by the number of days per week alcohol is consumed.

In 2001 participants of the Million Women Study (which includes one in four UK women born between 1935 and 1950) were asked how many days of the week they drank alcohol and whether or not their alcohol consumption was usually with meals. The researchers followed them for incident cirrhosis via national hospital admission and death databases.

401,806 women with an average age of 60 who reported having at least one alcoholic drink per week were followed-up over 15 years. Unsurprisingly, the results showed that cirrhosis incidence increased with the amount of alcohol consumed. The researchers also found that the incidence of cirrhosis was lower in those who usually drank alcohol with meals than those who did not. Among women who consumed seven or more alcoholic drinks per week, the excess risk of cirrhosis was greater with daily drinking than with less frequent consumption.

The mechanisms underlying the associations are unclear. It is suggested that not drinking daily may allow the liver time to recover after each episode of drinking. The delayed gastric emptying with food may lead to alcohol being absorbed more slowly in the intestine, and thus lower blood alcohol concentrations.