Alcoholism/Drug AbuseGERD

Alcohol, reflux esophagitis, and Barrett’s esophagus

 Researchers from Ireland try to sort out the relationships.

First, the details.

  • Information relating to alcohol drinking at age 21 and 5 years before the interview was collected.
  • Participants included the following individuals.
    • 230 with reflux esophagitis
    • 224 with Barrett’s esophagus (abnormal cells in the esophagus with a higher risk of cancer)
    • 227 with esophageal adenocarcinoma (cancer in the esophagus)
    • 260 healthy people
  • The findings were adjusted for potential confounding factors.

And, the results.
Alcohol use 5 years earlier

  • Those with gastroesophageal reflux symptoms were significantly less likely than controls without symptoms to drink alcohol 5 years before the interview date.
  • There were no associations between total alcohol consumption 5 years before the interview date and reflux esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, or esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Alcohol drinking at age 21

  • Drinking more wine was associated with a significantly lower risk of reflux esophagitis.
  • Total alcohol consumption at age 21 years was significantly associated with reflux esophagitis but not with Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal adenocarcinoma.

The bottom line?
I’m confused. Fortunately, the authors provide conclusions.

  • Alcohol consumption in early adulthood may lead to reflux esophagitis.
  • More recent alcohol consumption doesn’t appear to confer any increased risk of reflux esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, or esophageal adenocarcinoma.
  • Wine consumption may reduce the risk of these 3 esophageal disorders.

An article on Doctor’s Guide attempts to explain these findings. Although it’s not clear how wine might reduce the risk of Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer, it’s possible that…

  • Wine’s antioxidants neutralize the oxidative damage caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a risk factor for Barrett’s esophagus.
  • Wine drinkers typically consume food with their wine, which might reduce the potentially damaging effect of alcohol on esophageal tissue.
  • Wine drinking is a proxy for other “health-seeking” behavior.

3/9/09 20:01 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.