Alcohol damages gut, leading to cancer.

Alcohol damages gut, leading to cancer.

The Effects of Alcohol on the Gut and Overall Health

Drinking alcohol

Experts have long emphasized the negative impact of alcohol on the body, with harmful alcohol use being linked to various health issues, including certain types of cancer[^1^]. However, recent research from the National Institute of Health has shed light on an often-overlooked aspect of the harmful effects of alcohol: its impact on the gastrointestinal system, specifically the small and large intestines[^1^].

Understanding How Alcohol Affects the Gut

Upon consumption, alcohol rapidly affects the gastrointestinal system. As it makes its way down the esophagus and into the stomach, it begins to absorb into the bloodstream[^1^]. If there is little food in the stomach, the remaining alcohol quickly moves into the intestines, where it continues to be absorbed into the bloodstream[^1^]. Once in the bloodstream, it is carried to various organs and areas of the body, with the amount of alcohol in a person’s system measured as blood alcohol concentration[^1^].

Simultaneously, the body starts metabolizing alcohol. The liver breaks down ethanol, a component of alcohol, into a compound called acetaldehyde, which is known to be carcinogenic[^1^]. Although acetaldehyde is eventually further broken down and eliminated from the body, it can still cause damage in the meantime[^1^]. This aspect makes alcohol a significant risk factor for gastrointestinal diseases and cancers[^1^].

Dr. Luca Maccioni, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Health and first author of the research, explains, “The gastrointestinal tract is in contact with the highest amount of ethanol and its metabolites during alcohol consumption. Extremely high concentrations of ethanol and its metabolites significantly increase the risk of gastrointestinal diseases and cancers”[^1^].

Alcohol-Associated Bowel Disease

Alcohol-associated bowel disease is a range of intestinal dysfunctions associated with excessive alcohol consumption[^1^]. Despite its prevalence, the condition remains poorly understood[^1^]. Researchers hope that future studies will provide a diagnostic definition and a detailed molecular characterization of alcohol-associated bowel disease, thus enabling the development of effective treatments[^1^].

While the exact mechanisms behind alcohol-associated bowel disease are not entirely clear, researchers believe it involves the metabolism of ethanol and the by-products it creates, such as acetaldehyde and acetate[^1^]. These substances can contribute to bowel pathogenesis through various mechanisms, including changes in the gut microbiome and dysfunctions in the intestinal epithelium and immune system[^1^].

Increased Risk of Gastric and Colorectal Cancers

Scientific evidence has long established a link between alcohol consumption and a higher risk of developing gastric and colorectal cancers[^1^]. This correlation is attributed to the carcinogens released during alcohol metabolism[^1^]. Dr. Rudolph Bedford, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, explains, “Alcohol really causes an increased risk of cancer throughout the gastrointestinal system. Patients who drink upwards of three drinks a day are at an increased risk of stomach cancer and colon cancer”[^1^].

Alcohol’s Impact on Gut Bacteria

Dr. Scott Friedman, a renowned expert in liver diseases, highlights alcohol’s influence on gut bacteria as another contributing factor to gastric and colorectal cancers[^1^]. The collection of bacteria in the human gut, known as the microbiome, plays a vital role in overall health and can interact with various organs in the body[^1^]. Alcohol has been found to alter the gut microbiome, leading to substances that can damage the intestinal wall and potentially induce liver damage[^1^]. These changes in the microbiome are believed to contribute to the development of alcoholic liver disease and other gastrointestinal issues[^1^].

Protecting Gut Health

To reduce the risk of gastrointestinal issues, including alcohol-associated bowel disease, gastric cancer, and colorectal cancer, it is crucial to address problematic drinking habits. Dr. Friedman emphasizes the importance of seeking help through 12-step programs or rehabilitation to tackle alcohol addiction effectively[^1^]. Beyond avoiding alcohol, maintaining a healthy diet rich in fiber and avoiding overindulgence in red meats can also enhance gut function and maintain its overall health[^1^].

Dr. Bedford stresses the need for increased public awareness about the effects of alcohol on the gut microbiome, as it plays a significant role in predisposing individuals to gastrointestinal cancers[^1^]. The manipulation and reduction in diversity of gut bacteria caused by alcohol consumption may contribute to the development of cancer[^1^].

In conclusion, while alcohol’s impact on the liver and mental health is well-documented, its effects on the gastrointestinal system, particularly the intestines, are often overlooked. Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of alcohol-associated bowel disease, gastric cancer, and colorectal cancer. Understanding how alcohol affects the gut, and taking the necessary steps to address drinking habits and maintain a healthy diet, can help protect gut health and overall well-being.