Liver Disease Caused by Chronic Drinking Can Change Your Body’s Circadian Clock

By Paul Gaita 09/29/15

Over one-third of chronic heavy drinkers could be affected.

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The circadian clock is a group of nerve cells in the brain that control the physical, mental, and behavioral changes, or circadian rhythms, that our body undergoes in a 24-hour period.

These rhythms influence a wide variety of bodily functions, and when disrupted due to a variety of factors, they can contribute to an array of conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and bipolar disorder.

A new study suggests that chronic drinking can affect the body’s circadian clock and contribute to the development of alcohol-induced hepatic steatosis, or excessive fatty deposits in the cells of the liver. The condition affects 10 to 35% of chronic heavy drinkers and can lead to liver cirrhosis.

The study’s findings were published in Physiological Bionergetics: From Bench to Bedside. They were drawn by observing the levels of protein involved in mitochondrial function—a molecular process which provides power to the body’s changes—in the livers of two subject groups: healthy mice and mice that had been fed alcohol over a lengthy period of time.

The researchers found that in the latter group, the cycle of one mitochondrial protein, cytochrome c oxidase, was completely disrupted, suggesting that chronic alcohol consumption has a direct impact on liver dysfunction and alcoholic liver disease.

“Liver function changes daily in a rhythmic manner, and is coordinated with cycles of feeding-fasting, and to the energy demands of the body, such as activity and rest,” said study co-leader Giles Duffield, from Notre Dame’s Department of Biological Sciences and Eck Institute for Global Health. “These daily rhythms are regulated by the circadian clock within those liver cells, and disturbances to the molecular clock mechanism can lead to illness.”

The study also suggests that by understanding the impact of alcohol on circadian rhythm, greater control might be exerted over the development of liver disease.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.