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Alcohol consumption might alter your oral microbiome and lead to cancer


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Photo: Stocksy/Kayla Snell

Medical experts generally agree that one glass of antioxidant-packed red wine with your dinner is totally fine—and maybe even good for you—but new research demonstrates yet again that there is a fine line between drinking to your health and overdoing it. The study found that alcohol consumption could mess with your oral microbiome bacteria, thereby increasing your risk of cancer.

In the study, published in the journal Microbiome, researchers analyzed the effect of drinking alcohol on the oral microbiome by checking out oral wash samples of 1,044 adults aged 55 to 87. The participants included 270 nondrinkers, 614 moderate drinkers (one drink per day), and 160 heavy drinkers (more than one drink per day). Researchers found that those who drank alcohol had higher levels of cancer-causing bacteria strains—which have been shown to lead to cancer of the head, neck, esophagus, and pancreas—and lower levels of germ-fighting bacteria. And the more alcohol the participant drank, the greater the negative influence on good and bacteria.

“We know that alcohol is a risk factor for many other diseases. This is another scientific rationale, or justification, that heavy drinking is not recommended. We should avoid heavy drinking in terms of maintaining a healthy microbiome.” —Dr. Jiyoung Ahn

“We know that alcohol is a risk factor for many other diseases,” study author Jiyoung Ahn, PhD and epidemiologist at the New York University School of Medicine, told Time. “This is another scientific rationale, or justification, that heavy drinking is not recommended. We should avoid heavy drinking in terms of maintaining a healthy microbiome.”

Dr. Ahn admits that this study does not prove causality—that drinking alcohol affects the oral microbiome and not the other way around—but she contends common sense strongly suggests it, because how could the bacteria in your mouth influence how much you drink?

And although the study did identify participants who exclusively drank wine, beer, or liquor, authors said there were too few to determine differences between the effect of each type of beverage on the oral microbiome.

So, to keep your microbiome as happy and healthy as possible, keep the alcohol to a minimum. You might be grateful you did when your period arrives, since drinking might exacerbate PMS.

This research team is trying to map the microbiome—and radically change medicine. Also, if you gained back the weight you lost, here’s why your microbiome could be to blame.

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