A new study has shown that compared with nondrinkers, those who had one or more alcoholic drinks per day had an overabundance of oral bacteria linked to gum disease, some cancers, and heart disease.
The study published in the journal Microbiome on Monday also shows that drinkers had fewer bacteria known to check the growth of other harmful germs.
“Our study offers clear evidence that drinking is bad for maintaining a healthy balance of microbes in the mouth and could help explain why drinking, like smoking, leads to bacterial changes already tied to cancer and chronic disease,” said the study’s senior investigator and epidemiologist Jiyoung Ahn from New York University of Medicine.
The study offered evidence that rebalancing some of the 700 types of bacteria in the mouth, or oral microbiome, could potentially reverse or prevent some health problems tied to drinking.
According the study, drinkers had more of the potentially harmful Bacteroidales, Actinomyces, and Neisseria species, and fewer Lactobacillales, bacteria commonly used in probiotic food supplements meant to prevent sickness.
Researchers note that while their study was large enough to capture differences between bacteria among drinkers and nondrinkers, more people would be needed to assess any microbiome differences among those who consumed only wine, beer, or liquor.
Ahn said her team’s next steps were to work out the biological mechanisms behind alcohol’s effects on the oral microbiome.
Ahn suggested acids in alcoholic beverages make the oral environment hostile for certain bacteria to grow.
Another reason, according to her, could be the buildup of harmful byproducts from alcohol’s breakdown, including chemicals called acetaldehydes, which are produced by certain bacteria, such as Neisseria.