Does moderate alcohol consumption accelerate the progression of liver disease in NAFLD? A systematic review and narrative synthesis.
OBJECTIVES: Liver disease is a leading cause of premature death, partly driven by the increasing incidence of non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Many people with a diagnosis of NAFLD drink moderate amounts of alcohol. There is limited guidance for clinicians looking to advise these patients on the effect this will have on their liver disease progression. This review synthesises the evidence on moderate alcohol consumption and its potential to predict liver disease progression in people with diagnosed NAFLD.
METHODS: A systematic review of longitudinal observational cohort studies was conducted. Databases (Medline, Embase, The Cochrane Library and ClinicalTrials.gov) were searched up to September 2020. Studies were included that reported progression of liver disease in adults with NAFLD, looking at moderate levels of alcohol consumption as the exposure of interest. Risk of bias was assessed using the Quality in Prognostic factor Studies tool.
RESULTS: Of 4578 unique citations, 6 met the inclusion criteria. Pooling of data was not possible due to heterogeneity and studies were analysed using narrative synthesis. Evidence suggested that any level of alcohol consumption is associated with worsening of liver outcomes in NAFLD, even for drinking within recommended limits. Well conducted population based studies estimated up to a doubling of incident liver disease outcomes in patients with NAFLD drinking at moderate levels.
CONCLUSIONS: This review found that any level of alcohol intake in NAFLD may be harmful to liver health.Study heterogeneity in definitions of alcohol exposure as well as in outcomes limited quantitative pooling of results. Use of standardised definitions for exposure and outcomes would support future meta-analysis.Based on this synthesis of the most up to date longitudinal evidence, clinicians seeing patients with NAFLD should currently advise abstinence from alcohol.
PROSPERO REGISTRATION NUMBER: The protocol was registered with PROSPERO (#CRD42020168022).