Alcohol use may cause gut damage and increase cancer risk

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
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Experts say even moderate consumption of alcohol can lead to health issues. d3sign/Getty Images
  • Drinking alcohol can negatively affect the body.
  • Harmful use of alcohol can lead to a variety of health problems, including certain cancers.
  • Researchers from the National Institute of Health have discovered more information on how alcohol affects the small and large intestine, known as alcohol-associated bowel disease.

Drinking alcohol, even in moderate amounts, can have harmful effects on health.

How much and how often you imbibe can increase these effects, leading to health problems such as liver disease, pancreatitis, mental health issues, and certain cancers like gastric cancer and colorectal cancer.

Additionally, about 3 million deaths each year worldwide are linked to use of alcohol.

Now, researchers from the National Institute of Health are shedding more light on how alcohol can also cause damage to other areas of the gastrointestinal system, mainly the small and large intestines.

The condition is known as alcohol-associated bowel disease.

This study was recently published in the journal eGastroenterology.

In this study, Maccioni and his team reviewed previous studies to gather more information on alcohol-associated bowel disease, which researchers say is a poorly understood condition.

“Alcohol-associated bowel disease is a spectrum of intestinal dysfunctions linked to excessive alcohol consumption,” Maccioni explained.

“To date, we lack a diagnostic definition of alcohol-associated bowel disease, as well as a detailed molecular characterization of alcohol-associated bowel disease, which could precede cancers of the digestive tract. Therefore, future studies are needed to better understand alcohol-associated bowel disease’s pathogenesis and identify therapeutic targets to treat and/or ameliorate this disease,” he said.

While researchers state the complete physical process of how alcohol-associated bowel disease happens is not entirely understood, they believe it involves the metabolism of ethanol and the metabolites acetaldehyde and acetate it creates.

“Ethanol, a main component of alcoholic drinks, is a psychoactive substance with toxic and dependence-producing properties,” said Maccioni.

“Ethanol metabolism in the digestive tract leads to the generation of acetaldehyde and acetate. Ethanol, as well as acetaldehyde and acetate produced by ethanol metabolism, may promote and/or contribute to bowel pathogenesis via different mechanisms, including gut microbiome-related changes and intestinal epithelial/immune dysfunctions,” he explained.

Medical News Today also spoke with Dr. Scott Friedman, the dean for therapeutic discovery, a professor of medicine and pharmacologic sciences, and the chief of the Division of Liver Diseases at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York who was not involved in the study.

Friedman discussed another potential driver of gastric and colorectal cancer — alcohol’s effect on Health">gut bacteria.

“We’re now intensely focused on the contribution of the microbiome or the collection of bacteria in the human gut because we’re beginning to appreciate that not only are they a rich source of metabolites that can affect Health, but they can interact with organs in the body,” he said.

“For example, the microbiome can generate species in some patients that percolate to the liver and can induce some liver damage,” Friedman added.

“That’s actually thought to be one of the drivers of alcoholic liver disease, which is that alcohol changes the microbiome, changes the bacteria. Those bacteria make substances that both damage the intestinal wall directly, but may also percolate through the blood into the liver where they induce damage there.”
— Dr. Scott Friedman

When it comes to lowering your risk for gastrointestinal issues, such as alcohol-associated bowel disease, gastric cancer, and colorectal cancer, Friedman said the first order of business is addressing your drinking habits.

“Alcohol abuse is damaging to the body in many ways (and) as this article points out, the underlying disease really is alcohol-use disorder,” he noted.

“Go to 12-step programs or other rehab programs to seriously tackle the addiction to alcohol so that they can reduce their intake. That is far more effective than any other treatment,” he said.

“Beyond [avoiding alcohol], a Healthy diet, avoiding the overindulgence of red meats, plenty of fiber, and what we would consider really a Healthy diet or a Mediterranean diet sometimes, are all things that may enhance the gut function and maintain its Health.”
— Dr. Scott Friedman

Bedford said he would like to see more messaging to the general public about the effect of alcohol consumption on the gut microbiome.

“I believe this really comes down to the effect on the microbiome, on top of the other multiple effects that alcohol has, but the bacterial flora is likely manipulated (and) changed. The diversity of bacteria within the gut is probably decreased. Other mechanisms, something we call DNA methylation, is probably affected. And those are all likely factors that predispose one to many of these cancers,” he said.

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