Study: Alcohol Associated With Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth

Dr. Group
by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
Published on , Last Updated on

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Most people are aware of the adverse health effects drinking too much alcohol can have on the body and mind. Over consumption can damage the liver, the stomach, and lead to excess weight gain. It has also been connected to with memory loss, clinical depression and emotional instability, and fatty liver among other psychological concerns.

These factors (combined with the all-too-common tendency of acting foolish when imbibing too much), lead many health-conscious people to temper the amount of alcohol they consume. Now, there may be another reason to abstain.

Alcohol Affects Intestinal Flora

Research presented late last year at the American College of Gastroenterology’s Annual Scientific Meeting conference, in Washington, D.C., suggests that drinking even very moderate amounts of alcohol on a regular basis may negatively influence the balance of naturally occurring bacterial flora in the small intestines [1].

What is Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth?

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), also sometimes referred to as small bowel bacterial overgrowth syndrome (SBBOS), is an increasingly common disorder in which populations of normally beneficial or benign intestinal bacteria grow at an abnormally fast rate. Unpleasant symptoms, such as bloating and nausea, are generally associated with these crowded in-bowel conditions. In more severe instances, frequent vomiting and diarrhea are also common.

Historically, intestinal damage resulting from other forms of bowel disease, and the use of certain antibiotic medications, have been considered primary risk factors for the condition. Previous studies have also shown a link between clinical alcoholism and SIBO or SBBOS [2]. However, this recent analysis is one of the first to document the effects of moderate alcohol consumption on intestinal bacteria growth.

Even Light Alcohol Consumption May be Detrimental

Using a technique referred to as lactulose hydrogen breath testing (LHBT), researchers were able to gauge concentrations of bacteria in the bowels of nearly 200 participants. Of these, the vast majority tested positive for small bowel bacterial overgrowth. Roughly 95 percent of them were also light to moderate alcohol drinkers—suggesting that consuming even the smallest amount alcohol can have a dramatic impact intestinal bacteria levels.

“Moderate alcohol consumption” is medically defined as no more than two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women. A “drink” is similarly defined as being equal to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or about one and a half ounces of distilled spirits.

Although many people responsibly enjoy an occasional beer or glass of wine without repercussion, if these new finding are correct, it underscores the importance of taking steps to protect the health of our intestinal environment.

References (2)
  1. American College of Gastroenterology. Moderate alcohol consumption is associated with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, study finds. ScienceDaily. 28 November 2011.
  2. Dukowicz AC, Lacy BE, Levine GM. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth: a comprehensive review. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2007 Feb;3(2):112-22.

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