Binge drinking—having more than four drinks—not only stresses your liver. A recent study revealed it affects your liver’s sister organ, the gut, as well. Alcohol is a known inducer of gut permeability; that is, it causes leaky gut. More specifically, alcohol has been shown to alter the tight junction proteins, occludens and zonulin-1.
A recent study revealed how binge drinking’s damaging effect on the intestine causes increased absorption of bacterial DNA and a damaging, proinflammatory bacterial molecule called endotoxin. Gram-negative bacteria, such as E. coli, harbor this endotoxin (aka lipopolysaccharide or LPS) signaling molecule on their outer membranes. When the single-cell barrier is breached from alcohol, for instance, this bacterial fragment leaks into systemic circulation, driving inflammation. As discussed at length in Belly Fat Effect, increased blood levels of endotoxin (a consequence of leaky gut) is linked with insulin resistance, fatty liver, obesity, and depression.Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School recruited 14 women and 11 men for the following study. To be sure these participants were not alcoholics, the scientists excluded women and men who drank more than 9 and 14 drinks per week, respectively. Once in the lab, participants were given 2 mL of 40-proof vodka per kg of body weight in an orange/strawberry juice mixture totaling 300 mL. The control group consumed just the 300 mL juice mixture. (Remember, a kg equals 2.2 pounds; so for me, that would be 90 kg and 180 ml of vodka. A shot of alcohol is 46.62 mL; so for me, that would be about four shots of vodka. I would be pretty buzzed!) For the first four hours, blood samples were taken every 30 minutes after the drink was consumed to track correlations between blood alcohol levels; endotoxin; inflammatory signaling molecules, such as TNF-alpha and IL-6; and two protective proteins that help shield the body from bacterial endotoxin, endotoxin binding protein and soluble CD14 (aka sCD14).
The researchers demonstrated a strong correlation between increased blood alcohol levels and bacterial endotoxin in the bloodstream, even after 24-hours of consuming alcohol. The group also reported higher endotoxin levels in women compared to men. There were no changes in blood endotoxin levels in controls consuming the orange/strawberry minus the alcohol.
ENDOTOXIN DOCKING STATIONS
Leaking bacterial particulate through your intestinal wall wouldn’t be such a big deal if it had nothing to latch onto. But the immune cells of the body, such as dendritic cells and T lymphocytes, contain the endotoxin receptor called toll-like receptor-4 (TLR-4). TLR-4 fits with endotoxin like a lock and key, stimulating immune cells to release inflammatory messages, including IL-6, MCP-1, and TNF-alpha, to the rest of the body. Blood levels of bacterial endotoxin, acute-phase reactants (endotoxin-binding protein and receptors), and inflammatory by-products were increased in the binge-drinking group but not the control group.
LEAKY GUT OPENS THE DOOR FOR BACTERIA
Remember, bacterial endotoxin is only found on gram-negative bacteria (Vibrio cholerae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Yersinia Enterobacter, etc.). This study found, for the first time, that binge drinking leads to increased blood levels of DNA from all bacteria! So-called 16S rDNA is chemically different DNA from that of our own; so when it’s elevated in the blood, it’s suggestive of bacterial penetration (from gut, mouth, etc.).
Researchers from Massachusetts showed for the first time that binge drinking is linked with leaky gut and elevated blood levels of bacterial endotoxin and DNA. Blood alcohol was correlated with blood endotoxin and inflammation. Compared to men, women tended to have higher blood endotoxin levels at similar blood alcohol levels. This may explain, in part, why excessive alcohol intake is more damaging for women.
If you’re doing to drink, be sure to keep the alcohol in moderation and eat polyphenols (color-rich fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices), fiber, and pumpkin seeds (as they help to detoxify bacterial endotoxoin). Zinc carnosine is a great supplement to help offset gut permeability and may help to prevent alcohol-related increases in bacteria.