A new study involving both mice and people revealed that alcohol consumption is associated with changes in the kinds of fungus that reside in the gut. These fungi are more common in people who consume alcohol and also exacerbate the effects of alcohol on the liver. Moreover, it's not just alcohol abuse causing harm to the liver – it's all the fungi that thrive in an alcoholic environment.
Also, findings reveal that anti-fungal medications can be a potential woodstock treatment center for alcoholic liver diseases, which range from fatty liver disease to the far more serious end-stage liver disease, or cirrhosis.
While past research suggested an association between heavy alcohol consumption, bacterial imbalances in the gut, and leaky gut syndrome, few studies have examined the function of gut fungi in alcohol-related diseases.
During the study, mice were given alcohol daily for two months, and researchers found that this regular exposure to alcohol resulted in excessive growth of specific types fungi in the intestines.
However, when researched administered an anti-fungal drug to certain mice, not only did levels of fungi decrease, but also the severity of liver damage and fat accumulation in the liver was reduced.
These experiments revealed that fungi could exacerbate alcoholic liver disease by releasing sugar that moves out of the gut and into the surrounding organs, particularly the liver. Once in the liver, this sugar can result in inflammation that kills liver cells and furthers alcoholic liver disease. Moreover, heavy alcohol consumption increases the level of fungi, which increases the levels of this sugar, thus promoting an inflammatory response.
Next, researchers looked at fungi in the feces of eight healthy people and twenty people who had engaged in alcohol abuse and also had a type of liver disease. The heavy alcohol users were found to have a significant overgrowth of Candida fungus in their guts.
Blood samples from other groups of thirty patients with alcoholic liver disease were then analyzed, and levels of antibodies that identify fungi were measured.
It was revealed that persons with higher amounts of antibodies (which indicate a higher exposure to fungus in the gut) were more likely to die from liver disease over a 5-year period.
Researchers noted that this was a small study, and more extensive studies are needed in the future, particularly to investigate whether a specific fungus contributes more than other in the promotion of liver disease. Researchers are now hoping to test the anti-fungal medication in patients with liver disease to determine if the drug reduces the disease in human subjects as it did in mice.
The study was published May 22 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology