Alcohol can affect multiple systems throughout the body, including the biliary system — which is involved in the production and regulation of bile.
While alcohol’s effects on enzymes in the liver, for instance, are much more widely known, effects on bile production and the gallbladder are less commonly discussed.
How Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Bile Production?
Various research studies have found that alcohol increases the synthesis of bile acids in humans and animals, which can lead to higher secondary fecal bile acid levels.
The effects of moderate drinking and heavy drinking on the body, however, are not the same, and affect bile production differently over time.
Regular and irregular bile production are linked to both the gallbladder — which is part of the biliary system –— and the liver, specifically liver damage and other liver problems.
How Does Alcohol Affect The Gallbladder?
Alcohol use has known effects on the liver. The risk of developing fatty liver, cirrhosis, and liver failure are significantly heightened with chronic, heavy drinking.
The gallbladder is located near the liver. But it’s not harmed as significantly in the same way that the liver is by heavy alcohol consumption.
In fact, some research has linked moderate drinking, defined as no more than one or two drinks per day, to a reduced risk for gallstones, which affect roughly 10 to 15 percent of Americans.
Heavy Alcohol Use May Lead To Gallstones
Gallstones are small deposits, typically excess cholesterol, that harden into a stone formation in the gallbladder, located on the right side of your abdomen, beneath the liver.
While oftentimes benign, gallstones can form a blockage and disrupt the flow of bile from the liver to the small intestine in the bile duct.
As a consequence, the blockage could thereby cause a buildup of bile in the liver.
Causes of this can include:
- excessive cholesterol in the bile
- excessive bilirubin in the bile
- issues with gallbladder emptying
Gallstones may cause pain and other symptoms if they block a duct, but otherwise do not generally require treatment. If a blockage occurs, this may cause problems.
Complications of gallstones can include:
- inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis)
- severe pain
- jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- liver problems
- bile duct infection
- gallbladder cancer
Medical treatment for gallstone-related complications, including surgery, may be required.
If you are experiencing nausea or vomiting; jaundice; or sudden and severe pain in the abdomen, right shoulder, or between the shoulder blades, call your healthcare provider or 911 for a medical emergency.
How Does Alcohol Affect The Risk Of Gallstones?
Several theories have been proposed to explain this link.
One is alcohol’s effect on the rate at which the gallbladder empties. This would reduce bile production, and reduce the likelihood of gallstone formation.
But this theory hasn’t been substantiated. Another theory is the potential effects of alcohol use on one’s cholesterol levels.
Heavy Drinking And The Gallbladder
At the same time, much of the research that links alcohol intake to a reduced risk for gallstones assumes that a person is drinking in moderate amounts.
Heavy drinking and binge-drinking can increase the risk of gallstones and other health conditions, due to the damaging effects of alcohol on the liver.
Risk factors for gallstones include:
- alcoholic fatty liver disease
- liver cirrhosis
- having diabetes
- dietary risk factors
- rapid weight loss
Alcohol-related liver problems can increase the risk for gallstones largely because liver damage can disrupt the flow of bile to the gallbladder.
Progressive liver issues, and other health problems, are common among those who drink an excessive amount of alcohol over the course of years or decades of a person’s life.
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By calling our helpline, we can identify treatment options for alcohol abuse and addiction that can meet your or your family member’s needs.
Don’t wait. Call us today to learn more.Article Sources
- American Journal of Physiology: Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology — Colonic inflammation and bile acids in alcohol cirrhosis
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — Drinking too much alcohol can harm your health. Learn the facts
- Digestive Diseases — Gut Microbiota, Cirrhosis, and Alcohol Regulate Bile Acid Metabolism in the Gut
- Mayo Clinic — Gallstones - Symptoms and Causes
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: PubMed — Alcohol Consumption Can Reduce the Risk of Gallstone Disease: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Case-Control and Cohort Studies
- U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism — Drinking Levels Defined