Changes in gut health linked to binge drinking in young people may lead to changes in emotional functioning and alcohol cravings, according to a new study.

The research adds to a growing body of evidence that gut microbiome, which is found in the digestive system and affects a person’s health, plays an important role in regulating brain and emotional function.

A team from APC Microbiome Ireland at University College Cork studied 71 young people and found that changes to the microbiome associated with binge drinking may be linked to a poor ability to recognise emotions, along with alcohol cravings.

Lead author Dr Carina Carbia 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.”

In Western countries, binge drinking is the most common form of alcohol abuse during adolescence, with one in three young people in Europe binge drinking on a regular basis. In Ireland, more than half of people aged from 18 to 24 report that they binge drink every month.

The habit is linked to a greater risk of going on to have an alcohol use disorder and changes in cognition which may continue into adult life.

Senior author Professor John Cryan said: “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.”

This latest research could pave the way for new dietary and pre/probiotic interventions targeting the microbiota and cognitive changes linked to binge drinking in younger years.

The study has been published in the journal eBioMedicine.

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