We have written before about the microbiome’s association with alcoholism, and how it has been implicated in many of the maladies connected with the disease. Recently, research out of George Mason University, published in PLoS ONE, explored the molecular mechanisms behind this relationship. The scientists measured the metabolites that were formed by the microbiome of alcoholics and compared it to healthy controls. They discovered that the metabolites that differed between the two groups have important implications on gut health.
The scientists measured the volatile molecules that were being effused from the feces of 18 healthy controls and 16 alcoholics. The alcoholics’ feces contained high levels of an organic compound called tetradecane, which is known to cause oxidative stresses. Increased oxidative stress in the gut, especially in alcoholics, is associated with increased gut permeability (i.e. leaky gut), and alcoholic steatohepatitis (i.e. a type of liver disease). Moreover, specific fatty acids, which are known to reduce oxidative stress (antioxidants), were more depleted in alcoholics when compared with healthy controls. In addition, the alcoholic feces consisted of lower abundances of short chained fatty acids (SCFAs), which are nearly always associated with intestinal health (click the SCFA tag below to learn more). Finally, other molecules which are associated with health, like caryophyllene and camphene, were decreased in the guts of alcoholics.
Overall these results show the possible mechanisms by which the microbiome contributes to alcoholism. Specifically, it appears that the alcoholic microbiome may create oxidative stress molecules, which contribute to gut toxicity. In addition, the scientists suggest this work could be used as an alcoholism diagnostic, as the characteristic metabolites between the groups were statistically significant.