Intestinal fungi may contribute to the development and progression of alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and could potentially be controlled with a simple oral antifungal treatment, according to new research funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA).

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the findings in a press release. The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, challenges previous research linking ALD with bacterial overgrowth in the intestines and suggests that fungal microbiota (microscopic organisms) may also play a role in the progression of the drinking-related disease. 

For the first part of the study, researchers studied the intestines of mice with chronic alcohol exposure and found that fungi flourished in the environment. In turn, they noted that fungal overgrowth appeared to exacerbate the animals’ alcohol-related liver disease. Researchers then treated these mice with the oral antifungal agent amphotericin B and showed that mice that received the therapy had lower levels of liver injury and fat accumulation on average than their untreated counterparts.

A second set of small preliminary studies with humans also observed the overgrowth of a specific type of fungal species among subjects with a history of alcohol abuse, as well as less fungal diversity in individuals with a drinking history and ALD. They also found that the more prevalent the fungal overgrowth in subjects with ALD was, the higher the likelihood of mortality.

Study authors said that taken together, the research suggests that fungi may play a much greater role in controlling the microbes that live on and inside the body. The study also suggests that it may one day be possible to slow the progression of ALD in certain patients through with a simple, oral treatment.

Click here to read the NIH’s full overview of the report.