Alcohol-producing gut bacteria can cause liver damage — even in people who don’t drink
Many adults are well aware of liver damage risks and other detriments of binging on alcoholic beverages but a new research has spotted a strain of gut bacteria that produces its own booze in copious amounts.
The study said the bacterium in the gut is high enough to potentially pose a risk of liver problems in people who don’t drink at all.
The research, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, was conducted by a team of researchers at the Capital Institute of Pediatrics, China. It linked Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) to gut bacteria that produce a large amount of alcohol in the body.
NAFLD, a pathology that affects a quarter of the global adult population and whose cause has been shrouded in uncertainty over the years, is the build-up of fat in the liver due to factors other than alcohol.
After encountering a patient with auto-brewery syndrome, a rare condition where patients become drunk after eating alcohol-free but high-sugar food, the researchers discovered that a yeast infection in the gut could produce alcohol that eventually leads to intoxication.
They also analyzed the patient’s faeces and found that he had several strains of a bacteria called Klebsiella pneumonia in his gut which caused him to generate about four to six times more alcohol than those found in healthy people.
To further question the credibility of their findings, the team sampled the gut microbiota from 43 NAFLD patients alongside those of 48 healthy people.
About 60 percent of NAFLD patients were said to have reported high and medium levels of the alcohol-producing bacteria in their gut while only 6 percent of the healthy control samples carried these strains.
They also fed germ-free mice with high-alcohol-producing K pneumonia isolated from the ABS patient to see if this bacteria is truly responsible for fatty liver and, confirming their suspicions, the livers of the mice started scarring — a sign of long-term liver damage.
“We were surprised that bacteria can produce so much alcohol. When the body is overloaded and can’t break down the alcohol produced by these bacteria, you can develop fatty liver disease even if you don’t drink,” said Jing Yuan, lead author of the study at Capital Institute of Pediatrics.
“NAFLD is a heterogeneous disease and may have many causes. Our study shows K. pneumonia is very likely to be one of them. These bacteria damage your liver just like alcohol, except you don’t have a choice.”
The reason why some people have high-alcohol-producing K. pneumonia strain in their gut while others don’t have remained unknown but the team said the findings would help medical professionals better diagnose and treat bacteria-related to NAFLD.
“Having these bacteria in your gut means your body is exposed to alcohol constantly. In the early stages, fatty liver disease is reversible. If we can identify the cause sooner, we could treat and even prevent liver damage,” they added.