Excessive use of alcohol is now a global problem, causing a variety of harmful effects on health. An estimated 2 billion people worldwide drink alcohol every day and around 70 million people having a diagnosed drinking disorder.
But did you know that just one alcoholic drink per day for women and two drinks a day for men are considered to be moderate alcohol intake?
How does alcohol affect us?
Alcohol has both short-term and longer-term effects on our health. Short term effects include memory loss from blackouts and sickness, diarrhoea and headaches. Longer-term, the repercussions of gut modifications may lead to more serious, sometimes irreversible disease.
Impact on the gut microbiota
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the primary route from which anything we consume enters our bloodstream and mounting research suggests that overall health fundamentally starts with good GI health.
Our intestinal microbiota (bacteria and other micro-organisms) has a variety of functions, from supporting our immunity and endocrine system (the collection of glands that produce hormones), to influencing the function of the nervous system. Its role in digestion is particularly important and this is directly related to alcohol consumption.
In this article, we’ll summarise some of the ways in which alcohol interferes with digestion and gut function, potentially leading to intestinal malfunction and further health conditions.
What impact does alcohol have on the gut?
In basic terms, alcohol can interfere with the normal digestion of foods and, over the longer term, can have a number of more serious effects on gut health.
- A moderate to high alcohol intake can irritate the lining of the intestine and lead to an inflammatory reaction, which in turn may alter the community of bacteria in our gut. Changes in the intestinal bacterial environment can cause an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, referred to as dysbiosis.
- An inflammatory gut reaction may also lead to an increase in permeability of the intestinal lining (known as leaky gut). Increased permeability can allow toxins and unwanted microbes to pass into the bloodstream through the gut wall and this can lead to increased pressure on the liver, which has to work to detoxify the unwanted toxins and bacteria and remove them from the body.
- Alcohol is detoxified via the liver, which also works hard day and night to detoxify all the other chemicals we come into contact with, including the toxins and bacteria that pass through the gut wall when it becomes more permeable.
- Moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a condition where abnormally large numbers of bacteria grow in the small intestine. Symptoms of SIBO include bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea.
- Circulating alcohol can increase the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. As excess triglycerides are stored in the liver, they can build up and ultimately may lead to fatty liver disease and further problems with detoxification and elimination.
- The gut is also directly related to the brain via the gut bacteria and the gut-brain axis and by impacting the gut, alcohol can also impact our mood both directly and by impacting the production of substances called neurotransmitters in the gut.
What are the early symptoms of adverse alcohol consumption?
Short-term effects of alcohol intake include low-level symptoms such as heartburn, gastritis and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These can be identified via the following symptoms:
- Heartburn is the sensation of burning in your chest region that is caused by acid reflux or GERD
- GERD is the chronic medical condition whereby foods and stomach acid travel back up into the oesophagus. Alcohol triggers the relaxation of the circular muscle that controls the flow of food and prevents the flow of acid from the stomach back up into the oesophagus. This relaxation of the muscle can lead it not working effectively and if the acid is able to move up from the stomach it can cause a burning pain. Frequent alcohol intake can also lead to increased stomach acid production, further exacerbating the burning sensation.
- Gastritis is the irritation and inflammation of the stomach lining by the overproduction of stomach acid. Over the long-term, this may lead to the formation of stomach ulcers
What can I do to reduce the effects of alcohol on my gut?
There are a number of measures that can help to reduce how alcohol affects the gut. These are particularly important if you are already suffering from some of the symptoms described.
- Drink alcohol in moderation – aim for a maximum of one or two drinks once or twice a week.
- Always eat a healthy meal before drinking alcohol – aim to include lots of green leafy vegetables, healthy protein choices and some omega 3 fats.
- Remain well-hydrated at all times and particularly when drinking alcohol – drinking a glass of water between every alcoholic drink may help.
- Support your gut bacteria to help maintain a balanced microbiome.
- Be aware if you experience any of the symptoms listed and consider eliminating alcohol completely for a period of 6-8 weeks to identify if this is a trigger.
If you would like to know more about going sober for October, further information is available at the following links:
How sober will you go? – Go Sober Organisation
Are you going sober for October – Drinkaware
Want to know more?
Pro-Ven Probiotics aim to provide the best support for both you and your health. If you wish to know more about gut health and staying regular please do not hesitate to call us on 01639 825107 or alternatively, learn more via our blogs or in-depth proven research.
ProVen Probiotics, Unit 2 Christchurch Road, Baglan Industrial Park, Port Talbot, SA12 7DJ. Tel: 01639 825107