Hormone in the body may contribute to alcohol abuse
Updated 4:37 pm, Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Can a hormone produced by our own bodies increase our risk of alcoholism?
The study shows that aldosterone, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, may contribute to alcohol use disorder — more commonly called alcoholism.
Locally, at least one expert said the research — published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry — helps cement the idea that alcoholism is a physical illness.
“People who suffer from alcohol use disorders often feel that they have a moral failing,” said Dr. John Douglas, clinical director of the Outpatient Addiction Program at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan. Douglas said evidence of a biological basis for addiction “helps give them hope and encourages them that there are treatments, like for any other medical problem.”
Alcoholism is characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake and a negative emotional state when not using.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 6.2 percent or 15.1 million adults, in the United States ages 18 and older had an alcohol use disorder in 2015. Also in 2015, an estimated 623,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 had alcohol use disorders.
The new report describes three separate studies, conducted with non-human primates, rats and humans, that investigated the potential contribution of aldosterone to alcohol use disorders.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the hormone aldosterone helps regulate the body’s electrolyte and fluid balance by binding to mineralocorticoid receptors, located throughout the body. In the brain, these receptors are mainly in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex — two key areas involved in alcoholism.
In alcohol use disorders, amygdala dysfunction heightens the activation of brain stress systems, resulting in anxiety and other negative emotions, while disruption of the prefrontal cortex can impair decision making and impulse control.
Using information from the three new studies, researchers concluded that there is a relationship between alcoholism and “changes in the aldosterone/MR pathway marked by increased circulating aldosterone and decreased mineralocorticoid receptor gene expression in the amygdala,” according to a news release from the National Institutes of Health.
The study researchers have said there should be more studies that further investigate the relationship between hormone and alcohol, and whether this relationship might be targeted for the development of new medications for alcoholism.
The research is promising but there are limitations to it, said Dr. Gregory Buller, chairman of Bridgeport Hospital’s Department of Medicine. For one thing, he said, the study is relatively small. For instance, the human study only looked at about 40 people with alcoholism. Also, Buller said, the research hasn’t yet proved definitively that alcohol is linked to aldosterone.
“Whether there’s cause and effect here, they haven’t shown,” he said. “All they have shown is a correlation.”
However, Buller said, “it is an interesting hypothesis. It deserves further research.”