Do you know what’s swimming around in your gut? Bacteria.
What else is in there? Antibiotics. And no, not prescription meds like doctors give you for an infection. Your body actually produces natural antibiotics that kill the bacteria roaming through your intestines. This is the natural order of things.
What messes up this natural balance is alcohol. A recent study reveals our consumption of alcohol affects gut bacteria, which in turn ruins our liver.
Breaking Down the “Knowns” and “Unknowns”
We’ve known for a long time that alcohol abuse causes liver damage. In fact, liver disease (called cirrhosis) is the number ten killer in the U.S., and half of the cases are due to alcohol. As the liver processes alcohol, it creates by-products toxic to the liver and causes harmful inflammation. The result? Over time, alcohol consumption morphs into liver disease.
The study revealed another way alcohol damages the liver, involving our intestines. Basically, the alcohol sets bacteria loose in the human system. Those rampant bacterial germs make their way to the liver…and attack it with full force.
Remember that bacteria we mentioned living in your gut? A couple of natural antibiotics, REG3B and REG3G, are produced by your intestinal wall. When we repeatedly expose our digestive system to alcohol, we hinder the production of these protective proteins. Without these, the bacteria replicate freely and can more easily move through your intestinal wall.
Once outside your gut, the bacteria are then in the bloodstream. Since all blood passes through the liver, the bacteria eventually end up there, too, and increase the damage the liver is already suffering as it breaks down the alcohol.
Researchers examined this effect by manipulating the REG3G levels in mice. The mice that were missing REG3G had extra bacteria in their guts and more liver damage. Those with increased levels of REG3G had less bacteria and less liver disease.
Researchers also checked the levels of gut bacteria in humans with alcohol dependency. They found elevated levels of bacteria.
Based on these results, it appears gut bacteria is a significant factor in liver disease.
Putting This Knowledge to Work
The results of this study may have produced a new tool to treat liver disease. If we can boost the production of REG3G in our intestines, we could help decrease liver damage. This could be used as a treatment for those with alcoholic liver disease.
These results also encourage future studies of bacteria. Researchers note it would be helpful to know what specific bacteria increase liver disease and if any other natural “good guys” in our system are negatively affected by alcohol abuse.
Additional Reading: Mouth, Throat Cancer: Two More Reasons to Stop Drinking Right Now
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