Alcohol, Tobacco, and Caffeine Increase Cytokine Levels in Saliva

Dentistry Today


People who frequently consume alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine have increased levels of cytokines compared to people who do not partake in these substances, according to the Research Group on Oral Microbiology of the CEU Cardenal Herrera University (CEU UCH). 

The immune system releases cytokines to regulate inflammation during infections. When cytokine levels change in the oral cavity, they can cause chronic inflammation processes that can lead to periodontitis or even oral cancer, the researchers report.

The researchers studied the levels of the interleukin-1 alpha, tumor necrosis factor alpha, and interferon gamma cytokines in samples of saliva from 50 patients at the University Odontology Clinic at CEU UCH.

“In our results, we detected that frequent consumers of large amounts of alcohol and tobacco show a greater presence of the three studied cytokines in their saliva, which predisposes them to suffer chronic inflammatory, periodontal, or tumoral diseases in their oral cavity,” said professor Vernónica Veses, who led the study.

“Specifically, we detected that interleukin-1 alpha was the highest in alcohol consumers, and interferon gamma was higher among smokers,” Veses said.

Also, the levels of interferon gamma and tumor necrosis alpha are higher in the saliva of those who consume caffeine, including coffee and soft drinks, than in those who do not consume these products.

“Only their levels of interleukin-1 alpha are lower than those registered among non-consumers,” Veses said.

This pilot study is the first to show that the levels of cytokines in saliva are altered by the prolonged consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. Therefore, the researchers said, these patients have a higher risk of suffering oral inflammatory responses that can generate severe pathologies if they become chronic.

“These include periodontitis, an infection of the gums that harms the soft tissue and destroys the bone that supports the teeth,” Veses said. “And also, the appearance of carcinogenic tumors in the oral cavity.”

Previously, the researchers detected the relation between consuming these stimulating substances and the alteration of the levels of oral microflora, or the microorganisms that can cause oral infections and tooth decay.

“Now we have completed out this study by analyzing the levels of cytokines that the immune system produces to fight infections, generating alterations to the inflammatory reactions that can lead to severe chronic pathologies,” Veses said.

The study, “Modulation of Salivary Cytokines in Response to Alcohol, Tobacco, and Caffeine Consumption: A Pilot Study,” was published by Scientific Reports.

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