When it comes to liver damage, it's not just about how much you drink. It may also be about how you drink.
Chronic drinkers who occasionally binge drink may have an increased level of liver damage, a new study found. This study was conducted on mice, not humans, but it may have implications for how drinking affects patients' health. Further research is needed.
“Heavy binge drinking by those who habitually consume alcohol is the most common cause of liver damage in chronic alcoholic liver disease,” said lead study author Shivendra Shukla, PhD, a professor of medical pharmacology and physiology at the MU School of Medicine, in a press release. “We know that this behavior causes large fatty deposits in the liver that ultimately impair the organ’s ability to function properly. However, we wanted to understand the mechanism that causes this damage and the extent of the harm. Our research focused on different forms of alcohol abuse and the results of those behaviors.”
Definitions of binge drinking vary, but they usually entail drinking upward of four drinks in a short period of time. Chronic drinking is more like moderate daily drinking.
Over time, excessive alcohol intake can cause liver damage, which can lead to fatal organ failure. Alcohol intake can also lead to fatty deposits in the liver.
To conduct this study, Dr. Shukla and colleagues exposed mice to varying amounts of alcohol and frequencies of consumption over a four-week period. Mice exposed chronically to alcohol and repeated binge episodes showed the most liver damage.
“Either chronic alcohol use or acute repeat binge episodes caused moderate liver damage when compared to the control group not exposed to alcohol,” Dr. Shukla said. “This outcome came as no surprise. However, in the mice exposed to both chronic use and repeat binge episodes, liver damage increased tremendously. Even more shocking was the extent of fatty deposits in the livers of those exposed to chronic plus binge alcohol. It was approximately 13 times higher than the control group.”
These findings may sound alarming, and they may be, but research in humans over a longer period of time is needed to confirm them.
This research was published recently in the journal Biomolecules. The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.