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Can Antioxidants Reduce Alcoholism-Related Lung Problems?

Posted in Alcoholism Treatment

Can Antioxidants Reduce Alcoholism-Related Lung Problems?People affected by alcoholism commonly experience a number of harmful changes in their daily health. One of the possible changes, called alcoholism-induced ciliary dysfunction (AICD), results in a significantly decreased ability to keep toxins and harmful microorganisms from entering the body through the lungs. According to the results of a study published in December 2013 in the journal Alcohol, appropriate use of widely available dietary supplements called antioxidants can potentially ease some of the effects of AICD.

Alcoholism and AICD

Normally, the passageway from the throat to the lungs is protected by specialized cell structures called cilia. These hair-like structures perform their job in tandem with mucus, the viscous, slippery substance produced by the body’s mucous membranes. When microorganisms, toxins or allergens begin to enter the body through the nose or mouth, mucus helps stop these unwanted intruders by trapping them in place. Cilia in the airway then push mucus down into the body’s gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach and intestines), where the harmful materials caught in mucus are eliminated.

Alcoholism is defined by both a chemical dependence on alcohol and the establishment of a range of destructive, alcohol-related behaviors. Since alcohol is toxic to the human body, people affected by the condition regularly expose themselves to the harmful physical and mental side effects of ongoing, excessive alcohol consumption. One of these effects is impairment of the cilia lining the body’s airway. When the cilia don’t do their job, toxins, allergens and microorganisms have an increased chance of entering the lungs and triggering a range of infectious illnesses or other serious problems. Since the problem with cilia function comes from alcohol exposure, doctors call this condition alcohol-induced ciliary dysfunction.

Antioxidant Basics

Antioxidants get their name because they help the body fight the damaging effects of a process called oxidation. This process occurs naturally when oxygen enters your system. Oxidation is dangerous because it produces harmful particles called free radicals, which can temporarily or permanently disrupt the normal function of DNA, as well as certain critical chemical and cell functions. When antioxidants enter your system, they essentially slow or block free radicals’ ability to produce destructive changes. Common examples of readily available antioxidants include vitamins A, C and E, as well as substances called selenium, lutein, procysteine and lycopene. Most people get their daily supply of these vitamins and other substances from various foods that form part of their regular diets. However, doctors sometimes recommend that their patients take antioxidant supplements in order to boost their ability to fight free radicals.

Effects of Antioxidant Supplementation

In the study published in Alcohol, researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center used laboratory experiments on mice to test the usefulness of antioxidant supplementation as a treatment for AICD. Specifically, they gave two antioxidants – called procysteine and NAC – to a group of alcohol-exposed mice for a period of six weeks, then compared the cilia health of this group to the cilia health of a second group of alcohol-exposed mice not given antioxidant supplements. Areas of comparison included the ability of cilia to move normally and the ability of cilia to transport mucus out of the airway to the gastrointestinal tract. After completing their experiments, the researchers found that the mice treated with antioxidant supplements experienced a significant improvement in their cilia function when compared with the mice not given antioxidants.

Significance and Considerations

While the alcohol-exposed mice treated with antioxidants experienced a meaningful increase in their cilia health, the authors of the study published in Alcohol found that the underlying circumstances that can lead to AICD did not change. Essentially, this means that antioxidants are not a cure for AICD; instead, they help limit the condition’s effects while in use. In addition to experimenting with antioxidants, the researchers looked at what happens to cilia health when mice stop drinking alcohol for one week. They concluded that this disruption in habitual alcohol consumption also helps improve cilia function and decrease the chances of being exposed to infectious microorganisms or other lung intruders.

Based on their findings, the study’s authors concluded that people affected by alcoholism may be able to offset their lung-related health risks by taking antioxidant supplements prescribed by their doctors. However, since the study was conducted on mice, further human testing will be needed before confirming this conclusion.