Excessive Drinking Disrupts the Gut Microbiome

Excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt the gut microbiome and cause inflammation, leading to organ damage.

Alcohol misuse has long been known to cause damage to the liver, pancreas, heart, muscle, bone, and brain. However, the damage appears to develop only in some patients with alcohol use disorder (AUD).

A new study presented at the 47th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcohol (RSA) suggests that alcohol-induced gut inflammation could be the missing link between excessive drinking and organ damage.


“One key source of inflammation is gut microbiome dysbiosis and gut leak, which occur in only a subset of AUD patients. We show that unhealthy alcohol consumption among certain individuals decreases their resiliency to the detrimental effects of harmful environmental and lifestyle factors, leading to clinically relevant microbiota dysbiosis, intestinal leak, and organ damage,” said Ali Keshavarzian, M.D., in a statement.

The gut microbiome is the ecosystem of about 100 trillion microbes, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, that live in the intestines. These microbes help break down certain food components and support the immune and nervous systems.

Keshavarzian explains that alcohol-induced tissue and organ damage require additional inflammation and oxidative stress.

Since the gut bacteria is the primary source of endotoxin, a potent bacterial poison, researchers believe that alcohol-induced, gut-derived inflammation is the additional co-factor that can cause clinically relevant organ damage.

The study also revealed how excessive animal exposure in both animals and humans disrupts the normal intestinal microbiota community. These organisms can then promote endotoxemia by increasing the production of pro-inflammatory bacteria and disrupting intestinal barrier function.

Keshavarzian emphasizes that “there is no healthy alcohol consumption for all,” as environmental factors like diet, sleep patterns, and circadian rhythms can reduce the resiliency of individuals to the harmful effects of alcohol.

Expanding microbiome research has linked gut dysbiosis, the disbalance of the gut microbiome, to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and cancer.

Evidence indicates that gut microbiome imbalance can also contribute to neurological and mental disorders. However, experts say it is too early to determine whether specific bacteria cause a certain disease.

Previous research has suggested that gut-directed interventions, such as probiotic modulation of the intestinal microbiota, should be considered and evaluated for the prevention and treatment of alcohol-associated pathologies.


The author of the new study, Keshavarzian, also underlines the importance of gut-directed interventions that optimize intestinal microbiota and intestinal barrier function. Along with interventions that optimize circadian rhythms, these interventions promise approaches to prevent and treat alcohol use disorders and alcohol-associated organ damage.


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