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APC Researchers discover that youth binge drinking is influenced by gut microbiome

2 Feb 2023

Researchers discover that youth binge drinking is linked to gut microbiome changes

  • Study finds that young adult binge drinks show alterations in the gut microbiome.
  • The alternations are linked with poor ability to recognise emotions and cravings to consume alcohol.
  • Youth binge drinking can have short and long-term impacts on health and wellbeing.

Youth binge drinkers show alterations in the gut microbiome, a new study finds.

The study of young people, conducted by researchers at APC Microbiome Ireland, a world-leading SFI Research Centre based at University College Cork (UCC), found that alterations in the gut microbiome, microorganisms that live in the human digestive system and affect health, are linked with the common practice of binge drinking in young people.

The study demonstrated that alterations in the microbiome were associated with poor ability to recognise emotions and the urge to consume alcohol.

Published in The Lancet eBioMedicine, the findings support evidence that the gut microbiome appears to regulate brain functioning and emotional functioning.

1 in 3 young Europeans frequently binge drink

Binge drinking is the most common pattern of alcohol misuse during adolescence in Western counties. One in three young Europeans engage in frequent binge drinking. In Ireland, 60% of 18- to 24-year-olds report binge drinking on a monthly basis.*

Binge drinking is associated with increased risk of developing alcohol use disorder and experiencing cognitive alterations which may persist into adulthood.

Alcohol and gut health

The study of 71 young people investigated the potential link between the gut microbiome and social cognition, impulsivity and craving in young binge drinkers.

Binge drinking was associated with distinct microbiome alterations and emotional recognition difficulties. Associations were found for several microbiome species linked to with emotional processing and impulsivity. Researchers found a strong link with cravings and alterations in microbiome composition and neuroactive potential over time.

These findings could help the development of novel dietary or pre/probiotic interventions directed at improving early alcohol-related microbiota and cognitive alterations in young drinkers during the vulnerability period of adolescence.

The research was led by Dr Carina Carbia, a postdoctoral fellow funded under the APC’s EU Marie Skłodowska–Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship programme (APEX) in the laboratory of Professor John Cryan and Professor Ted Dinan at APC Microbiome Ireland.

The gut microbiome regulates social and emotional cognition

The study builds on growing evidence in animal models that the microbiome is an important regulator of social and emotional cognition and extends it to human subjects.

Dr Carbia, lead author of the study, said: “By focusing on young adults, at a crucial time of both brain and gut-immune development, we identified gut microbiome alterations linked to binge drinking in young people. The microbiome composition showed associations with social cognition and impulsivity, adding support to the growing evidence that the gut microbiome plays a key role in brain and behaviour. Changes in the gut microbiome composition and the neuroactive potential were associated with higher craving over time, constituting interesting candidates for early biomarkers of dependence.”

Professor John Cryan, Vice President for Research & Innovation UCC, Principal Investigator, APC Microbiome Ireland, and the study’s senior author: “This study demonstrates that the most common pattern of alcohol misuse during early adulthood is linked with gut microbiome alterations, even before an addiction develops. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of the gut microbiome in regulating craving, social cognition and emotional functioning. The findings support the development of microbiota-targeted diets or interventions to positively modulate gut-brain communication during this vulnerable period of adolescence before an addiction develops.”

The study received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 754535.

- The study, The Microbiome-Gut-Brain Axis Regulates Social Cognition & Craving in Young Binge Drinkers, will be published in The Lancet eBioMedicine at 9am (GMT) on Thursday, 2 February.

* Source Report ‘Peer-led survey of student alcohol behaviours’

For more on this story contact:

Kate O’Sullivan, UCC Media & Communications, or 087 764 6931

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