Protecting the liver: Binge or regular drinking?

Posted Jan 29, 2017 by Tim Sandle
One urban myth runs that binge drinking is better for your liver than regular drinking, on the basis that the liver has rest days. This is not so according to medical researchers who look at the total amount of alcohol consumed over time.
Vodka stock
Vodka stock
The risks of excessive drinking are the development of alcoholic liver disease. This disease of the liver is assessed on a spectrum based on the amount of fat that develops within the liver. The more severe cases lead to inflammation, fibrosis, and cell death. These cases can be fatal.
While those with a high dependency of alcohol are easier to spot (people who drink large quantities daily, for example), those who are not alcohol dependent but who might be putting themselves at risk are harder to detect. This includes the so-called ‘binge drinkers’. A binge drinker is someone who drinks alcoholic beverages with an intention of becoming intoxicated by heavy consumption of alcohol over a short period of time. Often binge drinkers are weekend drinkers, who get very drunk on Friday and Saturday nights but who do not drink or drink only moderately during the week.
To understand the effects of binge drinking, a research group have used a rodent model to understand the extent of liver damage between those who would binge drink and those who are heavy drinkers.
The researchers came from the University of California, San Francisco. For the study the scientists compared the metabolic effects in mice in response to alcohol. The mice were divided into different groups. One group was designed to replicate repeated binge-like alcohol drinking; another group simulated a single binge-drinking session; and a third group was designed to cover repeated moderate alcohol drinking. These are all common behaviors adopted by people. The researchers looked for specific biological markers of early- and later-stage liver disruption.
The findings showed that even limited binge-like alcohol drinking disrupts liver function. In time this could, the researchers predict, lead to more severe forms of liver damage. The biological marker that indicated this was fatty liver development, induction of a liver metabolic enzyme called CYP2E1, and increased alcohol metabolism.
The research will lead to further studies designed to understand the effects of different levels of drinking, designed to mirror human behaviors. The findings have been published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. The research paper is titled “Limited Excessive Voluntary Alcohol Drinking Leads to Liver Dysfunction in Mice.”