A study by the University of Missouri School of Medicine suggests that chronic alcohol use combined with repeated binge drinking is even more harmful for the liver than previously thought.
Knowing that heavy binge drinking by those who habitually consume alcohol is the most common cause of liver damage, the team wanted to research further the cause and extent of this damage by looking at the effects of different forms of alcohol abuse on a group of mice over a four-week period.
The researchers studied the effects of chronic alcohol use, repeated episodes of binge drinking, and a combination of both, and compared them to a control group.
The results, published in the journal Biomolecules, showed that chronic alcohol use and repeated binge drinking caused moderate liver damage in comparison to the control group. However the mice that were exposed to both chronic alcohol use and repeated binge drinking showed signicantly higher levels of liver damage than the other groups.
Alcohol damages the liver by causing large fatty deposits in the organ which affect its ability to function properly. In the mice that were exposed to both chronic alcohol use and binge drinking these levels of large fatty deposits were around 13 times higher than the levels in the control group.
The fatty deposits were also caused in in part by metabolic changes within the liver, which in addition to increasing the number of fatty liver deposits, also increased stress on the liver, and decreased the liver's ability to fight this stress.
Shivendra Shukla, lead author of the study, also warned that chronic alcohol use does not only affect the liver. "Drinking alcohol excessively can create an inflammatory response to the liver and other organ systems in the body," Shukla said. "If those organs work at a lower level of function, then a whole host of physiological processes can be affected. It is important for us to understand the extent of damage caused by alcohol abuse, which also can lead to other health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer."
Binge drinking is the most common form of excessive alcohol consumption in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines binge drinking as drinking five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in a two-hour period. The CDC reports that according to national surveys, 1 in 6 US adults binge drinks around four times a month, consuming around eight drinks per binge drinking episode.