Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Alcohol and bacteria - A new risk
Because virtually all adverse effects of alcohol are associated with excessive consumption, and are so widely known, our commentaries have been preponderantly concerned with beneficial influences of moderate drinking. In contrast, we now consider just-reported research which surprisingly observes that small amounts of alcohol may escalate the virulence of bacterial infection.

Michaels Smith and Snyder of Yale University reported on their studies of interactions between bacteria and yeasts to the American Society of Microbiology in early June. They had noted that colonies of a bacterium, Acinetobacter baumannii, grew more vigorously when near yeasts than when not (the reverse of Fleming’s famous observation of penicillin). The effect was traced to the ethanol the yeasts had produced by fermenting sugar. A. baumannii leads to pneumonia, meningitis and urinary infections and to bloodstream infections in American soldiers in Iraq.

Carrying the research to infected living organisms, Smith and Snyder fed two strains of the bacterium, one a mutant insensitive to alcohol, to roundworms, and then plied the worms with modest doses of ethanol. The worms infected with alcohol-sensitive bacteria were less fertile and died sooner than the mutant strain, indicating enhanced virulence. Although conventional wisdom suggests that alcohol would kill off a budding infection, drinking may invigorate some bacteria.

Harvey Finkel writes and lectures internationally on wine’s influences upon health. He is a member of AIM’s Social, Scientific, and Medical Council, an award-winning wine writer, and retired as clinical professor of medicine (hematology/oncology) at the Boston University Medical Center

Source: Microbial Synergy via an ethanol- Triggered Pathway Michael G.Shelley G. Des Etages and Michael Snyder* Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

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