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Do cold and dark climates affect consumption of alcohol and liver disease?

A recent study investigated the relationship between cold dark climates and levels of alcohol consumption and liver disease.

For many years, there has been a belief that people who live in colder climates with fewer hours of sunshine tend to drink greater amounts of alcohol. However, this widely accepted idea has not been tested scientifically. Prolonged excessive alcohol intake can damage the liver and lead to alcoholic liver disease and liver cirrhosis. Researchers at the University of Pittsburg set out to investigate whether climate affects levels of consumption of alcohol and liver disease. They recently published their findings in Hepatology.

The researchers collected data from 193 countries, as well as more detailed data within the United States, looking at all 50 states and 3,144 counties. Data sources included the World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization and the Institute on Health Metrics and Evaluation. Climate data included average annual sunshine hours and average annual temperatures. Alcohol-related data included population alcohol consumption levels, drinking patterns and the prevalence of alcohol-related liver cirrhosis. The researchers also collected data on population health indicators such as the prevalence of obesity, cigarette smoking, and viral hepatitis. They reviewed information on national and regional alcohol consumption laws and social and religious attitudes to alcohol.

Statistical analysis of the worldwide data showed that as average annual temperatures and hours of sunshine fell, alcohol consumption increased, as did the percentage of binge drinking and total drinkers in the population. Levels of alcohol-related liver cirrhosis also increased in colder darker climates. Similar relationships were observed in the more detailed data from the USA. These relationships held even after adjusting for factors such as alcohol consumption laws or social and religious attitudes which could also influence drinking patterns. However, the researchers caution that there may be other unknown factors which also contribute to these drinking patterns.

Alcohol dilates the blood vessels and increases blood flow to the skin, making us feel warmer. The researchers suggest that this may be one of the reasons why people in cold climates drink more. Drinking is also linked to depression, which tends to increase when it is cold and dark. However, the researchers point out that observational studies such as this cannot prove a causal link between climate and alcohol consumption patterns and further research is needed.

This study provides observational support for the long-held idea that alcohol consumption and alcohol-related liver disease are higher in colder darker climates. The researchers suggest that policy initiatives to prevent excessive drinking should be particularly targeted at colder darker geographic regions.

Written by Julie McShane, Medical Writer

References:

  1. Ventura-Cots M, Watts AE, Cruz-Lemini M, et al. Colder weather and fewer sunlight hours increase alcohol consumption and alcoholic cirrhosis worldwide. Hepatology 2018 Accepted for Publication. Doi: 10.1002/hep.30315
  2. Press release: Colder, darker climates increase alcohol consumption and liver disease. University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-11/uops-cdc102618.php
Julie Mcshane MA MB BS
Julie Mcshane MA MB BS
Julie studied medicine at the Universities of Cambridge and London, UK. Whilst in medical practice, she developed an interest in medical writing and moved to a career in medical communications. She worked with companies in London and Hong Kong on a wide variety of medical education projects. Originally from Ireland, Julie is now based in Dublin, where she is a freelance medical writer. She enjoys contributing to the Medical News Bulletin to help provide a source of accurate and clear information about the latest developments in medical research.
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