Just One Bout of Binge Drinking Has a Toxic Effect on Health

Just One Bout of Binge Drinking Has a Toxic Effect on Health

Posted on July 8th, 2014

Binge drinking is known for its ability to seriously increase the short- and long-term health risks of any given individual, whether or not that person has a physical dependence on alcohol. Most of the previously identified short-term risks associated with this pattern of drinking have centered on either alcohol poisoning or reckless involvement in things such as accidents or intentional acts of violence. However, according to the results of a study published in May 2014 in the journal PLOS One, even a single bout of binge drinking can produce harm inside the body by making it easier for bacterial toxins to pass from the gut or intestinal tract into the bloodstream.

Binging on Alcohol

A binge drinker consumes enough alcohol in a single bout of drinking to reach the blood-alcohol level that defines legal intoxication in the U.S. (0.08 percent). For the average adult male, this requires the intake of five or more drinks in two hours or less. The average adult female needs to imbibe four or more drinks in the same amount of time. More Americans participate in binge drinking than in any other form of dangerous alcohol consumption. Peak rates for the practice appear in young adults between the ages of 21 and 25; fully 45 percent of the population in this age range binge on alcohol at least one time in the average month. Over a third of all young adults between the ages of 26 and 34 also binge drink one or more times per month, and the practice also occurs with significant regularity in all other segments of the population between the ages of 18 and 64.

Previously Identified Consequences

In addition to alcohol poisoning and exposure to violence and accidental injury, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list a number of previously identified potential consequences of binge drinking involvement. These consequences include participation in risky sexual behaviors, cardiovascular problems such as stroke and hypertension, declining liver function, nerve damage, impotence, a declining ability to combat the effects of the chronic illness diabetes, nerve damage, increased odds of having an unplanned pregnancy and increased odds of giving birth to a child with any one of a group of debilitating conditions known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Binge Drinking and Bloodstream Toxin Exposure

All humans have a range of bacterial species living in their intestinal tracts. Some of these bacteria help promote good health by breaking down dietary carbohydrates and supporting the immune system. However, other gut bacteria have the potential to substantially harm human health. A prime example here is bacteria that carry toxins in their outer layers. If these toxins manage to pass through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream, they can trigger inflammation and tissue damage. Researchers and doctors already know that ongoing heavy alcohol intake can make it easier for bacterial toxins in the gut to make their way through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. Specific problems associated with this chronic, alcohol-related toxin exposure include increased risks for alcoholic liver disease, a condition that can produce brain dysfunction, nerve damage, jaundice and the permanent scarring of liver tissue called cirrhosis.

In the study published in PLOS One, researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School looked at whether a single incidence of binge drinking can increase the likelihood that bacterial toxins will migrate into the bloodstream. Twenty-five adults took part in the study. Each of these participants consumed enough alcohol to reach legal drunkenness within a one-hour time frame. For the next four hours, the researchers took blood samples every 30 minutes; they also took additional blood samples after a full day had passed.

After reviewing the blood samples, the researchers concluded that a single bout of binge drinking sharply increases the amount of bacterial toxins found in the bloodstream. In addition, they found evidence that the bacteria that produce these toxins also make their way into the bloodstream. The researchers concluded that the increase in bacterial toxins is substantial enough to potentially damage the body’s normal immune response, and may also contribute to the dysfunctional behaviors of binge drinking participants. The 14 women enrolled in the study reached higher levels of intoxication than their 11 male counterparts, and also had more bacterial toxins circulating in their bloodstreams.

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