Before concluding, the researchers observed 1,044 participants, between the ages of 55 and 87, who provided mouthwash samples of their oral microbiome when they enrolled and also gave detailed information about their alcohol consumption.
All three liquors were each independently associated with a decreased abundance of a specific bacteria in the mouth. "Though heavier drinking led to more extensive changes in the oral microbiome".
A professor in dental medicine and microbiology at Columbia University, Yiping Han, said that this is not an actual proof of alcohol influencing the oral microbiome. The more someone drank, Ahn says, the more pronounced these effects tended to be.
By heavy drinkers, the team used the limit recommendations from the US health officials, which is one drink per day for women and two per day for men.
The heavy drinkers in the study had higher levels of harmful Bacteroidales, Actinomyces, and Neisseria bacteria; and they had lower levels of Lactobacillales, commonly found in probiotic food supplements and thought to prevent sickness.
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At the same time, drinkers were found to have a drought of healthy bacteria meant to fight off harmful strains.
Ahn noted that, in prior research, she and her colleagues demonstrated that oral bacteria composition can influence the development of oral and upper digestive track cancers, including cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus, and pancreas. Previously, work at NYU Langone and elsewhere have talked about how microbial changes in the mouth are tied to the risk for head, neck cancers, and gastrointestinal cancers.
Laboratory testing was then used to genetically sort and quantify the oral bacteria among the 270 nondrinkers, 614 moderate drinkers, and 160 heavy drinkers.
The researchers note that while their study included a large number of people, they would still need to study even more to assess microbiome differences among those who consumed only wine, beer, or other types of alcoholic beverages.
Going forward the research team intends to look into the biological mechanisms by which alcohol affects the oral microbiome.
People who drank more had less abundant populations of Lactobacilli, so-called "good" bacteria.
"This is the first study to show this relationship, and more research is necessary", Ahn said.