Binge drinking can leave lasting liver damage

Posted August 8, 2013 at 10:24 am

How many times did your mother tell you: Be ye sure your sins will find you out? New research bears that out.

A hangover is temporary, but the effects of binge drinking can be long-lasting and serious according to Dr. Pam Duitsman, a nutrition specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

“New research from the University of Missouri shows that weekend binge drinking can leave lasting liver damage,” said Duitsman.

Consumption of alcohol can cause swelling and inflammation of the liver. It’s not news that chronic use of alcohol can lead to scarring and cirrhosis of the liver. However, chronic alcohol consumption can no longer be considered the only factor in developing alcoholic liver disease.

In a recent issue of “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research,” MU researchers show a unique connection between binge drinking and the risk for developing alcoholic liver disease and a variety of other health problems.

“Studies from experimental animals and humans indicate binge drinking has profound effects on the liver, leading to a whole host of physiological problems. Binge drinking can also cause severe alcoholic hepatitis, which can be life-threatening,” said Duitsman.

Binge drinking is not only associated with liver damage. Many studies have shown that those who participate in binge drinking risk serious damage to their brains, including memory loss later in adulthood.

Research from Duke University noted that the brain, especially the adolescent brain, is very vulnerable to the neurotoxic effects of alcohol.

“The research at Duke indicates that alcohol impairs brain activity in the brain receptors responsible for memory and learning. The brains most affected were those who had a binge-pattern of drinking,” said Duitsman.

Alcohol in large doses is neurotoxic and sustained high consumption can destroy brain cells. Additional studies using brain scans and cognitive tests in underage binge drinkers and nondrinkers found that the drinkers had impaired memory and reasoning skills, and their hippocampi – the brain area that handles memory and learning – were about 10 percent smaller. It is not known if these effects are reversible.

In addition to effects on liver and brain, binge drinking also causes inflammation of the pancreas, damage to the heart, neurologic damage, increased blood pressure, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.

Aside from health issues, the CDC reports that binge drinking is associated with: unintentional injuries (e.g., car crashes, falls, burns, drowning); intentional injuries (e.g., firearm injuries, sexual assault, domestic violence); suicide; unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV.

CDC reports that, although college students commonly binge drink, 70 percent of binge drinking episodes involve adults age 26 years and older. About 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by youth under the age of 21 in the United States is in the form of binge drinks. More than half of the alcohol consumed by adults in the United States is in the form of binge drinks.

“Unfortunately, binge drinking is on the rise, both nationwide and in Missouri,” said Duitsman.

Binge drinking is defined for women as having four or more; for men, five or more drinks; in two hours. An estimated 29 percent of women and 43 percent of men have reported experiencing at least one binge drinking episode over the course of a year.

For more information on nutrition, contact one of the following nutrition specialists: Dr. Lydia Kaume in Barton County, (417) 682-3579; Dr. Pam Duitsman, in Greene County, (417) 881-8909; or Cammie Younger in Texas County, (417) 967-4545. Information is also available online http://extension.missouri.edu.