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Alcohol and Liver Damage

Alcohol and liver damage are two things that often go hand-in-hand. Excessive alcohol intake can cause inflammation and scarring of the liver. Alcohol-related liver diseases include alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis.

Interestingly, however, your gut bacteria might also cause liver damage. Researchers have discovered that some people have gut bacteria that can make them drunk. It may also contribute to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

What is Gut Bacteria?

Your body has trillions of bacteria, as well as fungi and viruses. These make up the microbiome. Your body’s combination of bacteria is unique and specific to you. A range of factors determines it. For example, your mother’s microbiota, your lifestyle, and your diet are all factors that play a role. There are hundreds of different kinds of bacteria in your gut alone. They line your digestive system and are primarily found in your colon and intestines.

What is Gut Bacteria’s Role?

Gut bacteria play vital roles in different parts of your health. From the moment you are born, your microbiome is important to your health. As you develop through childhood and adolescence, your gut microbiome diversifies. That is considered a good thing. The food you eat also helps diversify your gut bacteria. The bacteria in your gut help you digest fiber, and they affect your immune system and how your body responds to infection.

The gut microbiome is also linked to the functionality of the brain and central nervous system. There are both good and bad bacteria in your gut. When you have an imbalance, it can cause health problems. For example, when you have imbalanced microbes in your gut, it can lead to weight gain. You may also experience intestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

The gut microbiome may even play a role in heart health. For example, some bacteria in your gut might create chemicals that lead to heart disease, but if you have a healthy balance of good bacteria, it can reduce the risk of heart disease. Your gut microbiome may help control your blood sugar, lowering your risk of type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Certain types of bacteria can help your brain produce neurotransmitters like serotonin. Serotonin acts as an antidepressant in the brain. The gut is also connected via millions of nerves to the brain. The theory is that the gut microbiome may help control messages sent from the nerves to the brain. Many current studies show people with psychological disorders have different types of bacteria in their guts compared to people who don’t have these disorders.

How Can Gut Bacteria Make You Drunk?

With all the above in mind, how can gut bacteria make you drunk? It is rare, but it has been proven to happen. A few years ago, a woman in upstate New York was charged with drunk driving. She was later exonerated because she was able to show that her blood alcohol level was the result of a condition where her body brews its own alcohol. The condition is now referred to as an auto-brewery syndrome.

Scientists have found that certain strains of a type of common gut bacteria can produce large amounts of alcohol in the body. These bacterial strains may also be linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD. NAFLD can lead to liver damage, although it is not linked to alcoholism. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, unlike liver damage caused by alcohol, occurs in someone who drinks little-to-no alcohol. However, the condition can progress similarly to liver damage from alcoholism. The liver can be scarred and can fail.

Auto-brewery syndrome can cause people who eat large amounts of carbohydrates to get drunk. Gastrointestinal yeast converts the consumed starches and sugars to ethanol resulting in a state of drunkenness with no alcohol consumed. We are learning that the gut bacteria could produce far more alcohol than researchers initially thought possible. Researchers are now highlighting how liver damage can be linked to this condition as well.

An estimated 80 to 100 million Americans have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. One patient had both severe auto-brewery syndrome and severe NAFLD. In this case, researchers found a type of bacteria called K. pneumoniae in the patient’s stool samples. The strain they found was producing four to six times more alcohol than the same strain of bacteria in healthy people.

The researchers then looked at another set of patients with NAFLD. They found more than 60% had K. pneumoniae present and excreting high amounts of alcohol. Among a set of healthy study participants, only 6% had that type of bacteria. The K. pneumoniae bacteria weren’t that much more abundant in the NAFLD patients’ intestines. It was the amount of alcohol being produced that was much different.

With all of this in mind, researchers have been looking at whether or not they might be able to treat some cases of fatty liver with antibiotics. They have done that in animal studies so far. Doctors are also working on diagnosing this specific type of fatty liver with a blood test that measures blood alcohol levels in response to sugar intake.

Alcohol and Liver Damage

In people who drink alcohol excessively, liver damage is a common issue, and it can be deadly. But why do alcohol and liver damage have a relationship to one another? The liver is responsible for filtering toxins from the blood. While the liver can regenerate new cells, prolonged alcohol use can diminish its ability to do so. That can lead to liver damage.

The first stage of liver damage from alcoholism is often alcoholic fatty liver disease. The condition is usually reversible, but it does not always manifest itself through signs and symptoms, so people may not know they have it. Alcoholic hepatitis is the next stage of the continuum of alcohol-induced liver damage. Alcoholic hepatitis may be reversible, but many people die from the condition each year.

Cirrhosis is the most serious type of liver damage linked to alcoholism and alcohol abuse. By this point, the liver is significantly scarred. Cirrhosis is not typically reversible, although stopping drinking can help prevent further damage.

What to do About Abuse of Alcohol and Liver Damage

If you have a problem with alcohol, or your loved one does, help is available. It is never too late to get treatment for alcohol use disorder. We encourage you to contact Resurgence to make a plan to stop drinking and help your liver recover as much as possible. Resurgence offers both inpatient and outpatient alcohol treatment programs as well as medically supervised detox.

Call today to learn more about the program options available and how you can begin your recovery journey. We can answer any questions you may have about the treatment itself and help with insurance verification. Take this step today and begin the process of recovery.

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