Alcohol, liver, and nutrition

C S Lieber
Journal of the American College of Nutrition 1991, 10 (6): 602-32
Until two decades ago, dietary deficiencies were considered to be the major reason why alcoholics developed liver disease. As the overall nutrition of the population improved, more emphasis was placed on secondary malnutrition. Direct hepatotoxic effects of ethanol were also established, some of which were linked to redox changes produced by reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH) generated via the alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) pathway. It was also determined that ethanol can be oxidized by a microsomal ethanol oxidizing system (MEOS) involving cytochrome P-450: the newly discovered ethanol-inducible cytochrome P-450 (P-450IIE1) contributes to ethanol metabolism, tolerance, energy wastage (with associated weight loss), and the selective hepatic perivenular toxicity of various xenobiotics. P-450 induction also explains depletion (and enhanced toxicity) of nutritional factors such as vitamin A. Even at the early fatty-liver stage, alcoholics commonly have a very low hepatic concentration of vitamin A. Ethanol administration in animals was found to depress hepatic levels of vitamin A, even when administered with diets containing large amounts of the vitamin, reflecting, in part, accelerated microsomal degradation through newly discovered microsomal pathways of retinol metabolism, inducible by either ethanol or drug administration. The hepatic depletion of vitamin A was strikingly exacerbated when ethanol and other drugs were given together, mimicking a common clinical occurrence. Hepatic retinoid depletion was found to be associated with lysosomal lesions and decreased detoxification of chemical carcinogens. To alleviate these adverse effects, as well as to correct problems of night blindness and sexual inadequacies, the alcoholic patient should be provided with vitamin A supplementation. Such therapy, however, is complicated by the fact that in excessive amounts vitamin A is hepatotoxic, an effect exacerbated by long-term ethanol consumption. This results in striking morphologic and functional alterations of the mitochondria with leakage of mitochondrial enzymes, hepatic necrosis, and fibrosis. Thus, treatment with vitamin A and other nutritional factors (such as proteins) is beneficial but must take into account a narrowed therapeutic window in alcoholics who have increased needs for such nutrients, but also display an enhanced susceptibility to their adverse effects. Massive doses of choline also exerted some toxic effects and failed to prevent the development of alcoholic cirrhosis. Acetaldehyde (the metabolite produced from ethanol by either ADH or MEOS) impairs hepatic oxygen utilization and forms protein adducts, resulting in antibody production, enzyme inactivation, and decreased DNA repair. It also enhances pyridoxine and perhaps folate degradation and stimulates collagen production by the vitamin A storing cells (lipocytes) and myofibroblasts.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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