Bacteriocolonic pathway for ethanol oxidation: characteristics and implications

Ann Med. 1996 Jun;28(3):195-200. doi: 10.3109/07853899609033120.


Alcohol ingested orally is transported to the colon by blood circulation, and after the distribution phase, intracolonic ethanol levels are equal to those in the blood. Recent studies in our laboratory suggest that in the large bowel ethanol is oxidized by a bacteriocolonic pathway. In this pathway intracolonic ethanol is at first oxidized by bacterial alcohol dehydrogenase to acetaldehyde. Then acetaldehyde is oxidized either by colonic mucosal or bacterial aldehyde dehydrogenase to acetate. Part of intracolonic acetaldehyde may also be absorbed to portal vein and be metabolized in the liver. The bacteriocolonic pathway offers a new explanation for the disappearance of a part of ethanol calories. Due to the low aldehyde dehydrogenase activity of colonic mucosa, acetaldehyde accumulates in the colon. Accordingly during ethanol oxidation highest acetaldehyde levels of the body are found in the colon and not in the liver. High intracolonic acetaldehyde may contribute to the pathogenesis of alcohol-induced diarrhoea. Because acetaldehyde is a carcinogen in experimental animals, it may also contribute to the increased risk of colon polyps and colon cancer, which have been found to be associated with heavy alcohol consumption. Intracolonic acetaldehyde may also be an important determinant of the blood acetaldehyde level and a possible hepatotoxin. In addition to acetaldehyde, gut-derived endotoxin is another potential candidate in the pathogenesis of alcohol-related liver injury. Experimental alcoholic liver injury has recently been prevented by antibiotics, and this effect was related to the prevention of endotoxin-induced activation of Kupffer's cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Toxins / adverse effects*
  • Colon* / enzymology
  • Colon* / microbiology
  • Colonic Diseases / etiology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Ethanol / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Risk Assessment


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Ethanol
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase