Public Release: 

Aerobic fitness may protect liver against chronic alcohol use

Higher metabolism from aerobic activity could prevent liver inflammation

University of Missouri-Columbia


IMAGE: This is Jamal Ibdah, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine, Raymond E. and Vaona H. Peck Chair in Cancer Research at the MU School of Medicine and lead author of the... view more

Credit: Justin Kelley, University of Missouri Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive alcohol use is responsible for more than 80,000 deaths in the United States each year. Over time, excessive drinking can lead to several chronic conditions, such as fatty liver disease and cirrhosis. Now, a study by University of Missouri School of Medicine researchers shows that aerobic exercise may protect the liver against alcohol-related inflammation and injury.

"Excessive alcohol consumption is one of the most common causes of chronic liver failure," said Jamal Ibdah, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine, Raymond E. and Vaona H. Peck Chair in Cancer Research at the MU School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "We know from previous research that chronic and binge drinking causes modifications to protein structures within the liver, resulting in irreversible damage. In our current study we wanted to see whether increased levels of aerobic fitness could prevent alcohol-related liver damage."

Ibdah's research team used rats bred for high activity, or "runner rats," to test if increased metabolism protected the liver against fatty deposits and inflammation. One group of rats was exposed to chronic alcohol use for six weeks and compared to a second group that was not exposed to alcohol during the same time period.

"As expected, we found that fatty deposits were greater in the livers of the chronic alcohol group," said Ibdah, who also serves as director of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the MU School of Medicine. "However, chronic alcohol ingestion did not cause significant inflammation in the liver. Higher physical activity levels seemed to protect against the metabolic dysfunction that eventually leads to irreversible liver damage."

Ibdah's team also found that chronic alcohol ingestion caused no discernable increase in free fatty acids, triglycerides, insulin or glucose in the blood of the group exposed to alcohol as compared to the control group.

"This is significant because chronic alcohol ingestion may reduce insulin effectiveness over time, leading to elevated blood insulin and sugar levels," Ibdah said. "With chronic use, we would expect to see these levels much higher than the control group, yet surprisingly, they were about the same."

Ibdah said more research is needed to better understand how increased aerobic fitness provides oxidative protection against chronic alcohol use. However, understanding this mechanism may lead to eventual treatments for chronic alcohol-related liver damage.


The study, "High Intrinsic Aerobic Capacity Protects Against Ethanol-induced Hepatic Injury and Metabolic Dysfunction: Study Using High Capacity Runner Rat Model," recently was published in Biomolecules, a peer-reviewed journal on biogenic substances published by the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute. Funding for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health (R01DK099034), the NIH Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (R24OD010950) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VHA-CDA2 BX001299). The content of the article is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

In addition to Ibdah, the research team consisted of members from the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and the Department of Medical Pharmacology and Physiology at the MU School of Medicine, as well as the Departments of Anesthesiology and Molecular and Integrative Physiology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

About the MU School of Medicine

The MU School of Medicine has improved health, education and research in Missouri and beyond for more than 165 years. MU physicians treat patients from every county in the state, and more Missouri physicians received their medical degrees from MU than from any other university. For more information, visit

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