Healthy living

Drinking spirits increases risk of pancreatitis

Drinking spirits increases risk of pancreatitis But not beer or wine, study finds

Drinking spirits increases the risk of pancreatitis, but wine or beer does not appear to have the same effect, according to new research.

Around 25,000 people a year in the UK are admitted to hospital with an inflamed pancreas, a painful condition which is often linked to excessive alcohol consumption. 

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden decided to investigate the effect that different types of alcohol had on acute pancreatitis after noticing that its incidence declined in Sweden when spirits sales declined, despite increased sales of wine and beer. 

A similar pattern was observed in Finland, they said.

The researchers followed the health of nearly 85,000 men and women aged between 46 and 84 for an average of 10 years. During that time, 513 people developed acute pancreatitis.

The study found that a single Swedish measure of spirits (around 12g of alcohol) increased the risk of pancreatitis by 10 per cent.

Spirits in the UK are usually sold in 25ml or 35ml measures. A single 25 ml measure contains one unit or 8g of alcohol.   

But drinking five standard Swedish measures on a single occasion increased the risk of acute pancreatitis by 52 per cent. Drinking a similar level of alcohol in beer or wine on one occasion did not appear to increase the risk.

"When alcohol metabolises it induces oxidative stress and this in turn can lead to damaged pancreatic tissue," said Dr Omid Sadr-Azodi, who led the study.

"However research has shown that alcohol on its own is not sufficient to cause acute pancreatitis. 

"Our study suggests that there are constituents in spirits that are not present in wine and beer and that they can cause acute pancreatitis, either on their own or in combination with alcohol." 

The researchers also added that more research into the association between increased spirit consumption and acute pancreatitis, with a greater focus on constituents other than the alcohol, needs to be carried out.

The findings are published in the British Journal of Surgery.

This article was published on Fri 5 August 2011

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