Drinking Alcohol Increases Disease-Causing Mouth Bacteria

Drinking alcohol can throw off the balance of good and bacteria in the mouth and raise your risk for a variety of diseases, according to new research.

In a study published April 23, 2018, in the journal Microbiome, scientists at NYU School of Medicine found that people who consume one or more alcoholic beverages daily disrupt a healthy combination of oral microbes, which can lead to gum infection, cancer, or cardiovascular disease.

“Our study shows that heavy alcohol drinkers shift the overall composition of their oral microbiome [the community of microorganisms in the mouth] compared with nondrinkers,” says research senior investigator Jiyoung Ahn, PhD, associate director of population science at the NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center in New York City. “Particularly, we found that beneficial bacteria disappeared, and several inflammatory bacteria contents increased in heavy alcohol drinkers.”

The study defined heavy drinkers as women and men who had more than one or two drinks per day, respectively.

“Heavy alcohol drinking is a well-established risk factor for multiple diseases, including cancers,” says Dr. Ahn. “Our study provides another scientific reason to avoid heavy alcohol drinking for maintaining a healthy oral microbiome, which is important to our health.”

Good Versus Bad Bacteria

More than 700 different species of bacteria and some species of fungi live in the mouth. Many of these microorganisms can play an important role in factors that help maintain wellnessincluding immune response, nutrient digestion, and possible cancer prevention.

The heavy drinkers in the study had higher levels of harmful BacteroidalesActinomyces, and Neisseria bacteria; and they had lower levels of Lactobacillales, commonly found in probiotic food supplements and thought to prevent sickness.

Ahn noted that, in prior research, she and her colleagues demonstrated that oral bacteria composition can influence the development of oral and upper digestive track cancers, including cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus, and pancreas. Changes to bacterial composition from heavy drinking potentially contribute to periodontal disease, heart disease, and head and neck cancer as well, according to the authors.

Ahn and her colleagues reviewed mouthwash samples and alcohol consumption data from 1,044 adults, ages 55 to 87, who were participating in two ongoing cancer studies. Researchers analyzed oral bacteria and compared the microbe composition among 270 nondrinkers, 614 moderate drinkers, and 160 heavy drinkers.

The study authors indicated that the current research was not extensive enough to distinguish differences in oral health among wine, beer, or liquor drinkers.

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