Drinking too much causes an imbalance of bacteria in your mouth and increases your risk of cancer
07/20/2018 // Zoey Sky // Views

Aside from contributing to bad breath, it looks like drinking alcohol can disrupt the balance of both "good" and "bad" bacteria in your mouth.

The results of a study determined that regular alcohol consumption can also increase an individual's chance of developing cavities and gum disease, along with cancer and heart disease.

Alcohol, mouth health, and cancer risk

Jiyoung Ahn, an epidemiologist at NYU Langone Health's Perlmutter Cancer Center, said that the study provides undeniable proof that alcohol consumption can disrupt the healthy balance of microbes in the mouth.

Ahn added that the study can also explain why drinking causes bacterial changes that are connected to cancer and chronic disease. She warned that the report is further scientific proof that people should start drinking less to improve their overall health.

The researchers involved in the study found that drinking alcohol eliminates a lot of good bacteria, which then lets "some potentially harmful bacteria to flourish in the mouth." (Related: Eliminate Bad Breath Causes and Use Natural Remedies for Fresher Breath.)

The researchers noted that these changes could increase an individual's risk of developing alcohol-related diseases such as digestive tract cancers, head and neck cancer, and periodontal disease.

Other studies have confirmed that even moderate drinking can be bad for your health. Drinkers are more likely to develop various kinds of cancers and heart disease. Drinking even causes stress on the liver. Most heavy drinkers often develop gum disease and lose teeth.


Ahn et al. made it their goal to confirm if these health concerns are caused by alcohol’s effect on the mouth's microbiome.

Microbiomes are a group of microorganisms, like bacteria, viruses, and yeast, that can be found in our bodies. These microorganisms help digest the food we eat and they can also protect us from disease. However, some of them can also cause disease.

Individuals with imbalances in their microbiome can have a higher chance of developing asthma or becoming obese.

The researchers are trying to see what the elements of an optimal microbiome are. For the study, the researchers analyzed two health surveys wherein participants provided samples from their mouths for analysis. The individuals also reported their drinking habits. The team examined data from over 1,000 participants, which included 270 non-drinkers, 614 moderate drinkers, and 160 heavy drinkers.

Heavy drinkers included men who consumed over two drinks a day on average while it was more than one drink daily for the women. Based on the data, those who drank more had lower populations of Lactobacilli, the "good" bacteria.

The researchers explained that Lactobacillales is good for oral health and that some Lactobacillales can lower the risk of developing caries or cavities.

Meanwhile, the drinkers had more abundant populations of harmful bacteria, like Actinomyces, Cardiobacterium, Leptotrichia, Neisseria, and Streptococcus.

However, since the study is an observational trial, it was unable to confirm cause and effect. For now, it remains unknown if drinking eliminates some bacteria while letting others flourish; if it lets the bad bacteria thrive by influencing saliva production; or if makes the environment more suitable for the bad bacteria.

The researchers acknowledged that a separate trial – wherein moderate or heavy drinkers are randomized to continue or stop drinking long enough for their oral microbiome to show any changes – can give them more definitive information to work with.

Ahn commented that their research team had previously determined that smoking also affects the mouth's microbiome. Their upcoming studies will focus on how food and drink can affect it.

Ahn admitted that even though she hasn't considered how the study's findings could be applied to individuals who used alcohol-based mouthwashes, she posited that "alcohol is affecting mouth bacteria both directly and indirectly."

She shared that when we drink alcohol, the body metabolizes it. Anything that this metabolic breakdown produces goes into the blood and travels throughout the body, even going back into the mouth. Ahn noted that "we don’t swallow mouthwash," unlike beer.

Natural ways to freshen your breath

If you're worried about bad breath, here are three natural ways to keep your breath fresh:

  • Chew a handful of aniseeds, cloves, or fennel seeds – Aniseeds, cloves, and fennel seeds have antiseptic properties that can fight bacteria that cause bad breath.
  • Chew a piece of lemon or orange rind – The citric acid in the rind can stimulate the salivary glands and prevent bad breath. Wash the lemon or orange rind thoroughly before chewing.
  • Chew a fresh sprig of basil, cilantro, mint, or parsley – These herbs contain chlorophyll that can neutralize mouth odors.

You can read more articles about natural ways to improve mouth health and prevent cancer at Cancer.news.

Sources include:



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