A new study is showing that stopping one dangerous gut bacteria could be the key to treating alcoholic liver disease, which is a growing problem in America and around the world.
Using mice, researchers used a cocktail of bacteriophages—viruses used to kill bacteria—that effectively eliminated alcoholic liver disease. The scientists used the bacteriophage to selectively target Enterococcus faecalis, a type of gut bacteria that emits toxins that kill liver cells. Research has shown that people with alcoholic liver disease have more E. faecalis in the gut than people without it, while there is also a correlation between the amount of the bacteria and the severity of the disease.
Alcoholic fatty liver disease can take a long time to manifest, and it typically starts after only a few days of heavy alcohol use. If heavy drinking continues for decades, a fatty liver can progress to fibrosis, cirrhosis, or hepatitis. “Heavy drinking” is defined as 15-or more drinks for men and 8 or more for women. Currently, the only cure for the alcoholic disease is a liver transplant.
Liver health is essential to overall health. It is essentially your body’s filtration system—all you need to do a “detox” is a functional liver, to be honest. But when it’s not functioning, you’re at risk for danger. Toxins can remain in your body and significantly increase your chance of death. A fatty liver inhibits function and can create permanent damage by creating scar tissue.
Aside from limiting alcohol and drug consumption (including prescription drugs), you can re-enforce liver health by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet, and getting adequate exercise. There is also some evidence to suggest certain spices may re-enforce liver health. Turmeric is one of them, but you’ll likely need more than a few teaspoons (as is called for in most recipes).
If you are heading out to celebrate during the holiday season and planning to drink a little more heavily than you normally would, you can try taking milk thistle prior to drinking. Taking it throughout the holidays may help your body process alcohol faster and protect your liver from damage, but it is not a guarantee.
The new findings, published in Nature, are very interesting. If results hold up in humans, it could revolutionize treatment for a deadly condition.