Search IconSearch
December 6, 2017/Digestive/Research

Preventing Liver Damage from Chronic Alcohol Exposure

Early-stage research offers hope


New research out of Lerner Research Institute’s Department of Pathobiology provides hope for preventing liver inflammation caused by long-term alcohol abuse. This early-stage research helps illustrate how alcohol damages the liver and may offer targets for future preventive therapies.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Excessive ethanol (alcohol) consumption is associated with gut dysbiosis. This imbalance can have negative effects on key biological processes including metabolism, immunity and intestinal integrity. When the intestinal barrier becomes leaky because of alcohol abuse, harmful bacteria from the intestines commonly and easily travel to the liver, which becomes inflamed.

Gut dysbiosis also alters the ratio of short-chain fatty acids found in the intestines. Specifically, chronic alcohol consumption results in significantly lower levels of butyrate, which is important for intestinal health. These fatty acid imbalances are associated with cellular inflammation and death, muscular atrophy and disease pathology in the colon.

What role can tributyrin play?

A team of Lerner researchers led by Gail Cresci, PhD, RD, and Laura Nagy, PhD, set out to investigate whether reversing out-of-balance short-chain fatty acid ratios might prevent or correct alcohol-related liver injury. Specifically, they were curious to learn whether tributyrin, an oral butyrate analogue, can increase intestinal integrity and reduce barrier permeability.

To test this hypothesis, the researchers measured the health effects of different diet regimens in two groups of mice. They found that chronic-binge ethanol exposure had negative effects on intestinal barrier function, except in mice that were fed tributyrin. The improvement in the intestinal integrity prevented proinflammatory responses in the liver, which in turn reduced liver injury.

Next steps

While additional studies are needed to validate these findings in preclinical models and humans, this early data is encouraging. It suggests short-chain fatty acid ratios may be an important target for treating and preventing alcohol-related liver damage.

This research, which was partially funded by a grant awarded to Dr. Cresci from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Northeast Ohio Alcohol Center (NOAC), was published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. The NOAC is also funded by NIAAA. Dr. Nagy is director of the center, which is a collaborative research team comprising members from several research institutions in Northeast Ohio. Dr. Cresci is a staff member in the Pediatric Institute, Department of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Lerner Research Institute, Department of Pathobiology and Digestive Disease and Surgery Institute, Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition.


Related Articles

Surgeons performing bariatric surgery
July 2, 2024/Digestive/Research
Bariatric Surgery Improves Cardiovascular Outcomes in Patients with Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Cleveland Clinic study finds that durable weight loss is key to health benefits

Stefan Holubar speaking with researcher
June 21, 2024/Digestive/Research
3D Pouchography Can Improve Pouch Dysfunction Diagnosis and Pouch Salvage Planning

A proof-of-concept study shows how 3D pouchography can be a useful adjunct for surgeons

Liver Perfusion Device
June 7, 2024/Digestive/Research
Machine Perfusion Reduces Mortality by Shortening Waitlist Times and Increasing Liver Transplantations

New research shows dramatic reduction in waitlist times with new technology

May 24, 2024/Digestive/Research
Study Identifies Biomarkers in the Breath for Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Potential for new, non-invasive screening option

Patient holding injectable
May 23, 2024/Digestive/Research
Increased Risk of Gastroparesis Associated with GLP-1RA Use in Type 2 Diabetes Patients

Provider vigilance and patient education are key for management

Patient taking medication
May 22, 2024/Digestive/Research
Study Finds No Connection Between OSMs and Increased Cancer Rates in IBD Patients

Reassuring results, but patient education is still important