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Am J Epidemiol. 2003 Jul 15;158(2):129-34.

Hereditary hemochromatosis: effect of excessive alcohol consumption on disease expression in patients homozygous for the C282Y mutation.

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  • 1INSERM EMI 01-15, Laboratoire de Génétique Moléculaire, CHU Morvan, Brest, France.


Hereditary hemochromatosis is a common inherited disorder characterized by iron overload. A single mutation (C282Y) in the HFE gene is present in 80-95% of cases in populations of northern European extraction. The disorder presents a large phenotypic heterogeneity, and its expression can be influenced by environmental factors. This 1977-2002 study aimed to identify the influence of alcohol consumption on expression of the disease. The authors retrospectively registered 378 C282Y-homozygous patients treated in a blood center of western Brittany, France. In this cohort, 33 patients reported excessive alcohol consumption (8.7%). Those subjects presented significantly increased iron parameters (serum ferritin: 1745.2 vs. 968.7 microg/liter, p< 0.0001; serum iron: 39.9 vs. 36.0 micromol/liter, p = 0.0040; transferrin saturation: 87.1 vs. 80.1%, p = 0.0071) and elevated liver enzymes (alanine aminotransferase: 66.3 vs. 41.1 IU/liter, p = 0.0003; aspartate aminotransferase: 56.2 vs. 34.9 IU/liter, p = 0.0002). Their risk of skin pigmentation was also higher (odds ratio = 3.4, p = 0.0006). Results remained unchanged after adjustment. This study provides precise quantitative data about the impact of alcohol on expression of hereditary hemochromatosis in C282Y-homozygous patients. Excessive alcohol consumption accentuates disease expression and therefore the risk of cirrhosis and cancer. Consequently, these patients should be encouraged to consume very moderate quantities of alcohol.

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