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Health Information Don't Drink to Sleepless Nights

Disrupted sleep may make heavy drinkers particularly prone to liver disease.

Is there a way to identify which heavy drinkers are at an especially high risk for liver disease? Researchers have recently uncovered an unexpected link that may help to provide an answer.

Disrupted sleep and circadian rhythm — the body's internal clock — may play a role in the development of liver disease for those who are vulnerable due to heavy drinking, according to research conducted at Rush University Medical Center. For purposes of the study, was defined as receiving 29 percent of all daily calories from alcohol.

The study, which was published in the August issue of the journal PLOS ONE, showed that disruption of circadian rhythms, which is often seen in shift workers and those suffering from jet lag, weakened the lining of the gut (a condition known as leaky gut) in a clinical lab setting. People with leaky gut are vulnerable to illnesses such as liver disease because the weakening of the intestinal wall allows toxins to enter the bloodstream.

Gut Feeling

Ali Keshavarzian, MD, a gastroenterologist at Rush and the study's senior author, first came up with the idea for the study while working with patients with leaky gut, which also puts people in danger of developing autoimmune disorders such as Crohn's disease.

Over the course of caring for his patients, Keshavarzian noticed that many of those who worked night shifts experienced more symptom flare-ups than when they worked day shifts. He noticed a similar pattern of intestinal distress among some of his patients who were heavy drinkers.

Keshavarzian wondered about the connection between the two groups and suspected that the common factor, sleep disruption, might help explain why only about 30 percent of alcoholics develop liver disease.

Keshavarzian next plans to study how shifts in circadian rhythms result in leaky gut. “More research is needed to better understand the connection,” he says. “But this discovery has the potential to open up a new avenue for prevention and treatment."


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Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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October 2013
 

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