Unwinding in the pub on a Friday night could be wrecking your health - just four glasses of wine is enough to cause lasting damage, scientist have found.
A single alcohol binge causes bacteria to leak from the gut, leading to increased levels of toxins in the blood, according to a study carried out the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMASS).
And the damage could be caused by fewer drinks than you think - researchers classed a binge as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period.
Professor Gyongyi Szabo, who led the research, said: "We found that a single alcohol binge can elicit an immune response, potentially impacting the health of an otherwise healthy individual.
"Our observations suggest that an alcohol binge is more dangerous than previously thought."
To assess the negative impacts of binge drinking, 11 men and 14 women were given enough alcohol to raise their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to at least 0.08g/dl in the space of an hour.
Blood samples were then taken for every 30 minutes for four hours after and then again 24 hours later.
The results, published in the journal PLOS ONE, showed that just one alcohol binge led to a rapid increase in endotoxins in the blood - these cause the body to produce immune cells involved in fever, inflammation and tissue destruction.
The researchers also found evidence of bacterial DNA in the bloodstream, showing that bacteria had entered the gut. It is then able to travel through the gut walls to other parts of the body.
Women had higher blood alcohol levels compared to men, as well as higher endotoxin levels.
Greeter gut permeability and increased endotoxin levels have previously been linked to many of the health problems associated with alcohol consumption, including liver disease.