Alcoholics' Liver Cirrhosis Increases Brain Damage
> 8/30/2007 10:33:09 AM

By comparing the brains of alcoholics on a genetic level researchers at the Waggoner Center at the University of Texas were able to confirm that liver cirrhosis, a complication that affects as many as one in five heavy drinkers, leads to increased brain damage. The team examined levels of gene expression in the frontal cortex of two groups of drinkers: those with advanced cirrhosis of the liver and those without the condition. Their results, as reported at Yahoo! News, demonstrate the highly increased damage that cirrhosis led to in the brain:

Out of a total of 1,125 genes, 482 genes showed increased expression, and 643 genes showed decreased expression in the brain tissue of those with cirrhosis.

The report, which appears in the September edition of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, makes clear that the genes affected by the change in liver function play integral roles in proper brain function. Thus, the frontal lobe was affected in broad ways that would lead to increased dysfunction. That the brain would be so adversely affected by liver damage should come as little surprise. Cirrhosis, a condition characterized by the buildup of scar tissue in and around the liver, can lead to many highly problematic health outcomes including depressed immune system, gathering of any number of toxins, renal failure, and liver cancer.

While the Waggoner Center's research has showed how drastically cirrhosis can influence brain function, the question that remains is how the condition affects recovery and regeneration. Does cirrhosis lead to permanent loss of function, or will an alcoholic who is able to halt the deterioration of their liver—cirrhosis is not reversible—be able to undo some of the hearty damage already done to the brain? These questions will be difficult to answer in any kind of controlled study, but if there's one thing that we have witnessed time and again it is the brain's astonishing ability to regroup and repair itself. Heavy alcohol use takes an incredible toll on the brain, but sobering up will always give the body a chance to right the damage that has been done.

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