How Alcohol Affects Gut Health
Whether it’s the sunnier weather and the kick off of patio season, or the influx of backyard BBQs that leads to more drinking, chances are that on at least one occasion, having one too many beers or sangrias has left you reeling with the head-pounding, stomach churning, cotton-mouth effects of a hangover.
This, of course, doesn’t feel good, yet when the negative impacts of alcohol are discussed, the focus is often on dehydration and the toll that alcohol takes on the liver as the body detoxifies from the previous night. What is often overlooked though, and should be addressed, is alcohol’s effect on the gut bacteria.
How Does Alcohol Affect Our Gut Health?
Many studies have looked at the chronic consumption of alcohol and the impact that it has on the gut. Those who over consume alcohol on a regular basis have higher rates of alcohol-induced oxidative stress and intestinal dysbiosis which leads to gastrointestinal tract inflammation and intestinal hyperpermeability (aka leaky gut syndrome).1
Leaky gut syndrome, which is a condition of the digestive system wherein bacteria, toxins, undigested food and other unwanted particles are able to pass through the interior intestinal wall and manifest as a variety of undesirable symptoms. These symptoms, which may include fatigue, food sensitivities, joint pain, skin conditions, digestive problems, psychological impairments, amongst other problems, are directly tied to the consumption of alcohol. This is due to increased inflammation in the organs, as well as the propagation of the growth of certain types of negative intestinal bacteria.
This all sounds quite undesirable and it can be hard to imagine that drinking alcohol on occasions could have such an impact on the gut microbiome. Yet, the truth is that even though you may not consider yourself a ‘binge’ drinker, by definition, anyone who consumes more than four drinks per event falls into this category. In fact, it’s the most common form of drinking worldwide.2
One study aimed to investigate the effects that this type of drinking had on the gut bacteria of healthy individuals and found that such ‘binge drinking’ resulted in a rapid increase in serum endotoxins (i.e. bacteria toxins located in the cell), showing that bacteria were moving from the gut into the body. Elevated markers of inflammation, meaning one night of heavier drinking, is enough to rile up the immune response.2
This finding is relevant because throwing off the balance of bacteria in the microbiome sets the stage for dysbiosis, the imbalance of good to bad bacteria. Unfortunately, dysbiosis may trigger or support the development of Leaky Gut Syndrome, along with a host of health concerns connected to a compromised microbiome.
Prepping the Immune System for Alcohol Consumption
Part of responsible drinking involves understanding the risks involved, including the fact that consuming alcohol can affect the gut microbiome, and ultimately the immune system. That said, if you decide to partake, protecting the gut bacteria and boosting the immune system is a good way to help to stay shielded against the negative effects of alcohol.
- Probiotics: taking a daily dose of a high-quality probiotic such as Bio-K+ is a great way to maintain optimal digestive health and promote a diverse gut microflora, which can help bring back the balance after a night of drinking. As a bonus, healthy gut bacteria also produce certain B-vitamins, which quickly become depleted when alcohol is consumed.
- Vitamin C: vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, which helps support the immune system, and has liver protective effects. Drinking depletes vitamin C stores, so it’s best to consume this nutrient before, and after drinking.
- Fiber: alcohol is readily absorbed throughout the entire digestive tract. The amount of food in the body determines the rate at which that happens. To slow the absorption of alcohol, never drink on an empty stomach, but rather fill the plate with slow digesting carbs like veggies, sweet potatoes, brown rice, sourdough bread, as well as lean protein and healthy fats. Gut bacteria love fiber, so not only will it help lessen the effects of alcohol, it’ll keep the good gut bacteria healthy and fueled.
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