Scientists from the University of Massachusetts Medical School discovered a single episode of binge drinking can result in bacteria leaking from the gut, leading to increased levels of toxins in the blood.
The study showed that these bacterial toxins, called endotoxins, can cause the body to produce immune cells involved in fever, inflammation, and tissue destruction.
“We found that a single alcohol binge can elicit an immune response, potentially impacting the health of an otherwise healthy individual,” said lead author Gyongyi Szabo, M.D., Ph.D.
“Our observations suggest that an alcohol binge is more dangerous than previously thought.”
Binge drinking is defined by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08g/dL or above.
For a typical adult, this corresponds with consuming five or more drinks for men, or four or more drinks for women, in about two hours, depending on body weight.
Binge drinking is known to pose safety risks associated with car crashes and injuries.
Over the long term, binge drinking can damage the liver and other organs, but the new study presents key evidence that a single alcohol binge can cause damaging health effects such as bacterial leakage from the gut into the blood stream.
As discussed online in PLOS ONE, researchers assessed the impact of binge drinking by providing 11 men and 14 women enough alcohol to raise their blood alcohol levels to at least .08 g/dL within an hour.
Blood samples were then taken every 30 minutes for four hours after and again 24 hours later.
Szabo and colleagues found that the alcohol binge resulted in a rapid increase in endotoxin levels in the blood. Endotoxins are toxins contained in the cell wall of certain bacteria that are released when the cell is destroyed.
They also found evidence of bacterial DNA in the bloodstream, showing that bacteria had permeated the gut. Compared to men, women had higher blood alcohol levels and circulating endotoxin levels.
Earlier studies have tied chronic alcohol use to increased gut permeability, wherein potentially harmful products can travel through the intestinal wall and be carried to other parts of the body. Greater gut permeability and increased endotoxin levels have been linked to many of the health issues related to chronic drinking, including alcoholic liver disease.