Drinkers in soft water areas at higher risk of liver disease, warns George Best's doctor
11:13 GMT, 11 September 2012
Cure: Prof Roger Williams says the Government should add magnesium to water supplies to combat liver disease
People who live in areas with soft water are more likely to develop alcoholic liver disease (ALD) than those elsewhere, according to one of the world’s most eminent specialists.
Professor Roger Williams wants the Government to medicate the water supply to combat the effects after his research revealed the danger.
A paper co-authored by Prof Williams, who helped carry out the UK’s first liver transplant in 1968 and was George Best’s doctor, found those living in soft-water areas may be more at risk because of lower levels of magnesium. The mineral can help to protect the liver from alcohol.
It is the first time a link between water softness and the disease has been established.
The study examined hospital admissions in 28 English regions between 2003 and 2006.
The six areas with soft water – Lancashire, Birmingham, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, the South West and County Durham – had rates of alcoholic liver disease 21 per cent above the national average.
But the 13 areas with hard water – including South London, Essex, Shropshire and Staffordshire – had rates 13 per cent below the average.
The research may also explain why rates of the disease in Scotland are almost double those in England, despite average alcohol consumption being approximately the same. Most water is soft north of the border.
While the call to add protective magnesium to the water supply will be controversial, there is increasing concern at a deteriorating health situation.
Patient: George with his then wife Alex when he was admitted to hospital for liver disease. Best, who died in 2005, was treated by Prof Williams
Liver-disease deaths in England as a whole have risen to record levels. Prof Williams, director of the Institute of Hepatology, said: ‘We have never understood why some people will consume large amounts of alcohol and be unscathed while others drink more moderately and develop ALD.
‘These results suggest for the first time that the water supply may be a significant factor in explaining this anomaly. Perhaps we should supplement the water supply with magnesium.’
Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust charity, said: ‘Treating the water supply would be controversial but, if explained properly to the population, I think most people would say, “If it’s protecting the health of my liver then what’s the problem” ’
However, campaigners who have opposed adding fluoride to the water supply are likely to oppose any proposed new measure.
John Graham, spokesman for the National Pure Water Association, said: ‘This sounds like nonsense. Why would we want to dose all of the water and all of the population for a tiny number of people who have a problem with alcohol
‘Recommending supplements for those at risk seems much more sensible.’
The content of drinking water is affected by local geology and the minerals that seep into it.