According to a study published online by BJS (British Journal of Surgery), the risk of an acute pancreatitis attack can be increased by drinking just one 4cl measure of spirits, however, wine or beer do not appear to have the same effect.

The Karolinska Institute in Sweden conducted a study, in which researchers followed 84,601 people aged between 46 to 84 years from the general population in Vastmanland and Uppsala for an average of ten years, during which time 513 developed acute pancreatitis.

Leading author Dr. Omid Sadr-Azodi said:

“Our study revealed a steady increase between each measure of spirits a person drank on one occasion and the risk of having an acute attack of pancreatitis, starting at just under ten% for one 4cl drink. For example, drinking 20cl of spirits – five standard Swedish measures – on a single occasion increased the risk of an acute episode by 52% and the risk then continued to increase at that rate for every five additional units consumed. But drinking more than five 15cl glasses of wine or five 33cl beers on one occasion did not increase the risk.”

He continued:

“We also discovered that the average monthly consumption of alcohol did not increase the risk. However, it is important to point out that most of the people included in our study drank alcohol within acceptable ranges, consuming one to two glasses a day.”

When spirit sales declined despite increased sales of wine and beer, a similar pattern being observed in Finland, the authors were eager to investigate the effect of different types of alcohol on acute pancreatitis after noticing that incidence rates declined.

The study’s Key findings included:

  • The average age of patients with pancreatitis was 64 years. The cause of acute pancreatitis related to alcohol or of uncertain or unknown origin represented 56% of cases, of which 66 percent were men. 44 percent of acute pancreatitis cases of which 48% were men, were linked to gallstones.
  • Males and younger patients had the highest single occasion alcohol consumption, including wine, beer and spirits.
  • High single occasion spirits consumption was linked to nine percent higher levels of diabetes than low alcohol consumption, which was six%.
  • People with higher education who never smoked and consumed fruit and vegetables on a regular base were less likely to drink large quantities of beer and spirits.
  • Overall results were not affected by eliminating patients with gallstone-related disease and only reduced the overall risk of an acute attack after consuming five measures of spirits from 52% to 39%.

Dr. Sadr-Azodi concludes:

“When alcohol metabolizes, it induces oxidative stress and this in turn can lead to damaged pancreatic tissue. 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.”

More research into the association between increased spirit consumption and acute pancreatitis with a greater focus on constituents other than the alcohol is required.

Written by Petra Rattue