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Am J Gastroenterol. 2000 Sep;95(9):2323-7.

Body composition changes induced by chronic ethanol abuse: evaluation by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry.

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Department of Clinical Medicine, Università La Sapienza, Rome, Italy.



Nutritional disorders in alcoholics remain one of the most relevant medical problems in Western societies. As ethanol can supply >50% of the dietary energy in alcoholics, body composition alterations may easily occur. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the influence of chronic alcohol consumption on body composition in alcoholics compared to healthy social drinkers.


A total of 34 alcoholics defined according to DSM III R criteria, aged 41.6 +/- 9.3 yr and with a body mass index (BMI) 23.8 +/- 3.2 kg/m2, were consecutively enrolled in the study. In addition, 43 healthy male social drinkers were used as controls. Body composition was assessed using dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA), and dietary habits were determined by a 3-day food diary.


Mean daily alcohol intake was 194 +/- 62.4 g/day in alcoholics and 35.7 +/- 5.2 in healthy subjects (p < 0.0001). Body weight did not differ between alcoholics and controls (70.1 +/- 9.9 vs 71.8 +/- 6.4 kg). Alcoholics had a lower percent body fat (PBF) than control subjects (18.7 +/- 3.7 vs 23.9 +/- 3.9%; p < 0.01), as well as a lower fat mass content (13.4 +/- 3.8 vs 17.0 +/- 3.7 kg; p < 0.01). BMI was highly correlated with PBF in the patient population studied (R = 0.79; p < 0.0001). Significantly higher waist-to-hip ratios were found in alcoholics than in healthy subjects (p < 0.01). No correlation was found between dose of ethanol or duration of alcohol abuse and any of the variables examined.


Alcoholics showed a reduced fat mass and a good preservation of lean body mass with respect to control subjects, and duration of alcohol use and alcohol dose did not seem to influence body composition. These data suggest that, unlike control subjects, alcoholics cannot store the calories provided by ethanol as fat deposits.

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