A study in rats suggests that females metabolize alcohol differently in their bodies and may be more susceptible to alcohol-related liver damage than males, especially if they also consume a high-fat diet.
“Our research suggests that women should be cautious about the amount of alcohol they consume, since they’re highly susceptible to more severe liver injury than men, and thus to potentially serious complications,” study author Patricia Eagon, of the Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said.
Her team used a rat model to analyze differences in liver damage suffered by females and males due to chronic alcohol ingestion.
The rats were divided into two groups and given either no alcohol or alcohol, and either a diet high in carbohydrates or a low-carb, high-fat diet for eight weeks. The high-carb diet contained a mixture of vegetable oils, while the high-fat diet contained fatty fish oils.
Researchers assessed the degree of the rats’ liver injury and measured levels of bacteria in the lymph nodes, as well as blood levels of compounds called endotoxins.
Previous research found that endotoxins bacterial products that escape from the intestine appear to be a major factor in the development of alcohol-induced liver injury.
The study found that female rats given alcohol and fed the high-fat diet had much greater escape of bacteria from the gastrointestinal tract to abdominal lymph nodes, higher blood endotoxin levels, and more severe liver damage than male rats on the same diet or rats of either sex on the high-carb diet.
This suggests the intestines of the female rats became more permeable as a result of the combination of alcohol and high-fat fish oil, the researchers explained.
All the rats given alcohol showed some degree of fatty changes in their livers. However, liver inflammation was only evident in those females that were given alcohol and fed the high-fat fish oil diet.
The findings were presented at the annual Digestive Disease Week 2005 meeting in Chicago.