Technological, social and commercial advancements have led to a narrowing of the gulf of differences between men and women of today. But the alleged downside of the same is the increase in the number of female drinkers in the past decade. Many female drinkers use alcohol as a way to express their identity as different from usual responsibilities imposed on them by society such as caring for others and to transiently relive a younger, carefree phase of their lives. Does the same amount of alcohol consumption increase a woman’s chances of developing liver disease more than a man’s?
There has been a sudden increase in alcoholic liver disease among women which has led to the conjecture that women may be more vulnerable to injurious reactions in the liver caused by alcohol. Women are inclined to more severe forms of liver diseases, mainly alcoholic hepatitis, even after a short period of excessive drinking.
Scientists and Hepatologists are still trying to figure out why women tolerate alcohol so differently than men. One theory is that since women’s bodies contain less water per kilogram, equal quantities of alcohol consumed will appear more in concentration in blood serum tests. In addition, the stomach enzyme that metabolizes alcohol seems to be less in women. And estrogen may also be another factor.
Studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial while heavy drinking is bad. But liver and hepatobiliary surgeons suggest that even moderate alcohol consumption seems to increase the risk of psoriasis of liver and hypertension and many forms of cancer among female drinkers. While 2 drinks a day might decrease a mans risk of diabetes and heart disease, studies show that the same benefits disappear for women after the first drink.
The differing immunologic responses of the two sexes play a key role.
According to a study, even if the quantity of alcohol consumed and length of history of alcohol abuse are similar for men and women, the incidence of chronic advanced liver disease is higher among women than among men. Women, however, are less likely to develop primary liver cell cancer. Overall the women have a higher incidence of other alcohol-related disorders and are less likely to stop abusing alcohol than their male counterparts. Women seem to be more susceptible to alcohol-related liver disease.
A measure of the current alcohol intake can give a fair prediction of the risk of developing alcohol-induced liver disease in the future. Even if hepatitis B or C virus is absent, the female drinker’s body will show evidence of alcohol consumption in the form of damaged hepatocytes (liver cells). Additionally, a twofold increase in liver diseases is observed for female drinkers of more than 60g per day!
Of late, great focus has been laid on substance use disorders in women which have brought attention to the fact that women take longer or are less likely to quit drinking. Hence, greater emphasis must be placed on designing abstinence programs specifically for female patients, on earlier detection of liver disease, and on educating women about hazardous drinking levels. Reputed hospitals in Mumbai like Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Wockhardt Hospital, Fortis Mulund, Apollo Hospital Navi Mumbai, SevenHills Hospital & others have specialized liver screening test and liver health check-up packages. It is advisable for women to get a health check-up done and consult an experience hepatologist to identify onset of any liver disease.