Alcohol Awareness Month: Gut bacteria linked to alcoholic liver disorders

The glitz and glamor of alcohol has its adverse effects too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 30,700 alcohol-induced deaths were reported in America in 2014 alone.

Americans, it seems, have ignored the impacts of alcohol on their health and the country’s economy, as excessive and prolonged alcohol use continues to burn a hole in the American economy with billions of dollars lost due to reduced workplace productivity, surge in crime rate and the amount incurred on treatment of people for health disorders due to persistent drinking.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has been observing April every year as the Alcohol Awareness Month since 1987 to raise awareness and understanding of the damage associated with long-term or binge drinking, fighting the social stigma associated with drinking habits and inspire the local communities to put their focus on issues linked to alcohol abuse.


A study by the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine revealed that apart from the already known fact of alcohol abuse causing various disorders, including fatty liver, liver cirrhosis along with heightened likelihood of liver failure over a period of time, alcohol allows gut bacteria to move to the liver, increasing the chance of liver diseases attributed to alcohol.

The study, titled “Intestinal REG3 Lectins Protect against Alcoholic Steatohepatitis by Reducing Mucosa-Associated Microbiota and Preventing Bacterial Translocation,” was conducted on mice in laboratory samples.

Published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe in February 2016, the study concluded that alcohol reduces the effect of natural gut antibiotics, thus, leaving mice more susceptible to growth of bacteria in the liver and worsening the liver disease attributed to alcohol abuse.

Bernd Schnabl, senior researcher of the study and associate professor of gastroenterology at UC San Diego School of Medicine, said, “Alcohol appears to impair the body’s ability to keep microbes in check. When those barriers breakdown, bacteria that don’t normally colonize the liver end up there, and now we’ve found that this bacterial migration promotes alcohol liver disease. Strategies to restore the body’s defenses might help us treat the disease.”

This is pursuant to earlier findings by Schnabl and his team about prolonged alcohol consumption being linked to decreased levels of REG3 lectins in the intestine. In the latest research, scientists found that the inadequacy of naturally occurring antimicrobials called REG3 lectins intercepts bacteria from accessing the surfaces of the intestinal cells, thus, furthering the development of liver diseases caused due to alcohol abuse.

Scientists observed that mice genetically engineered to lack REG3G and constantly fed alcohol for eight weeks were more vulnerable to movement of the bacteria from the gut to the liver than normal mice fed on the same quantity of alcohol. It was found that mice lacking REG3G also suffered from severe alcoholic liver disorders than normal mice.

As part of the experiment, Schnabl and his colleagues tried bumping up copies of the REG3G gene in the intestinal cells grown in controlled environment of the laboratory. It was found that increase in REG3G diminished the growth of bacteria.

Similarly, reinstating REG3G in mice secured them from alcohol-induced fatty liver diseases. Researchers conducting the same experiment with the help of small intestine samples taken from humans found that the results obtained for mice hold true in humans too. Scientists observed that patients dependent on alcohol have decreased levels of REG3G when compared with healthy people who have increased level of bacteria growing in the gut.

Significance of the study

The findings pave the way for further researches into treatment of people abusing alcohol on an incessant basis. The fact that liver cirrhosis, or end-stage liver disease, is the tenth leading cause of death in America and more studies are being conducted to discover the necessary therapeutic interventions for prevention and treatment of this disease lends more significance to the results obtained.

Road to recovery

The stigma associated with drinking only means that more and more people suffer in silence and refuse to share about their disorders arising due to their drinking problems. Americans, young and old, need to be informed and educated about the impact of drinking and the available treatment options. It is imperative for lawmakers, healthcare providers and community workers to work in tandem in bringing about necessary policies and implementing them to curb the growing number of alcohol-related deaths and accidents each year.

Like other deadly diseases, drinking can also get out of control gradually. That’s why it’s important to reconsider drinking habits. If you or a loved one is struggling to get out of this devastating habit, the Alcohol Addiction Helpline can help you find the right treatment. Get in touch with us today at 866-281-3014.