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Tobacco, alcohol, and your microbiota

Daniel BuenoProlonged routine consumption of alcohol and tobacco may alter a person’s oral microbiota, the almost 700 species of bacteria that are naturally present in the mucosa of the mouth. Andrew Thomas, a member of the team headed by biologist Emmanuel Dias-Neto at the A. C. Camargo Cancer Center, used molecular biology techniques to analyze the bacterial flora of three groups of people: six smokers; seven smokers who also drank alcohol; and nine nonsmokers who drank alcohol only sporadically. The comparison showed that intensive tobacco use – one pack a day for at least 10 years – was associated with lower microbial richness in the mouth, including some microorganisms that protect the oral mucosa. The biggest difference was in the abundance of individual bacterial cells of each species, which was lower both in smokers and in smokers-and-drinkers (BMC Microbiology, October 2014). The researchers suspect that the unbalanced oral microbiota of these groups might be associated with a higher risk of developing some diseases, ranging from periodontitis to some types of cancer. They propose that the microbiota of people who only recently started drinking and smoking should be studied, to see how long a healthy microbiota persists and to propose strategies for its reconstitution.