Yes, I am about to talk about the big elephant in the room … what alcohol can do to your gut health!!
It is truly funny how we have such a different mindset to what alcohol does in our body versus anything else we eat or drink. It is like it has the special invisibility cloak in our body!
Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
Now I love a glass of wine (a Central Otago Pinot Noir is one of my favourite!!) but that doesn’t mean I should be blind to what too much festive “cheer” can do to my gut.
WHAT ALCOHOL IS DOING TO YOUR DIGESTIVE SYSTEM
When we drink alcohol it does more than make us tipsy, it can actually have a huge impact on how our whole digestive system works even when we aren’t having a drink.
Before the alcohol you drink even enters your liver it is absorbed by your upper intestinal tract. Whilst the liver does most of the work if you are just a social drinker (2 standard drinks), if you are drinking larger quantities, or drinking more often, the bacteria in your gut actually helps you metabolise the alcohol too.
Too much alcohol can also inhibit the production of digestive enzymes which means that it can have a real impact on your ability to breakdown food ongoing – this can leave you with that bloated feeling, not being able to absorb all of your nutrients well and symptoms such as reflux and indigestion.
CHANGES TO THE ENVIRONMENT
If you’ve ever been to a kids party you can see the destruction that can be left behind by seemingly innocent 5 year olds – the same happens in your gut when you drink alcohol (think of those drinks as crazy toddlers about to cause havoc on your digestive system!).
Alcohol changes the composition of your gut bacteria, how your gut functions as well as increasing it’s intestinal permeability (leaky gut).
So what does this all mean?
More inflammation in your gut and the rest of your body
Impaired immune system (70-80% of your immune cells are in your gut)
An impact on your mood through the Gut-Brain Axis (90% of serotonin if produced in your gut)
There is now also discussion around something called the Gut-Liver Axis. When we are drinking in excess this inflammation in our gut can then increase the inflammation and damage in our liver. looking after both goes hand in hand.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR GUT WHEN DRINKING
The reality is we are going to enjoy a drink every now and then, so what can you to help look after your gut? Here are a few tips for you:
Have some slippery elm powder before hand and before bed – this will help protect your gut lining. Add 1 teaspoon to a cup or glass, add a little bit of water to make a paste (otherwise you will get floaties!), then top with 150-200ml of water, mix until combined and drink. Please do not have slippery elm powder near medication as it may reduce absorption.
Don’t use alcohol to quench your thirst, make sure you’ve had enough water before you have an alcoholic drink, enjoy it and drink responsibly
Alternate between a glass of water and an alcoholic drink
I have read people say to enjoy kombucha in between but from anecdotal evidence it has seemed to increase the absorption of the alcohol in some people (hence getting you drunk faster) so please be careful with this
Make sure you aren’t drinking on an empty stomach, have a balanced meal beforehand
Be mindful of your food choices “the day after the night before”, this can be tricky when all you might be craving is something greasy, however do your best to get some easy to digest nourishing foods into your body
Have some roasted dandelion tea to help support your digestive system and liver the day after, you get this just from the supermarket
If your tummy is really upset consider something like Iberogast to have on hand for a few days
Bone broth is also something you can sip on to help soothe and settle your tummy
Consider adding a probiotic into your routine over the festive season to help keep things in balance
Up your antioxidant rich foods such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, goji berries, dark chocolate, kale, cabbage, beans and beetroot. Really just think about lots of colour on your plate!
It really is about being aware of what we are putting into our bodies. I am not saying to not enjoy that drink with friends however, if we give both our gut and what we put in it the respect that they deserve (our gut health for how it impacts the rest of our body, and alcohol for how destructive it can be) it helps us make the best decisions to support our overall health and wellbeing all the time.
I will also be running 2 webinars for Natural Medicine Week. Register to get your ticket to these events now!
Wanting to find out how happy your gut is at the moment? Head here to do my Gut Health Quiz.
Bishehsari, F., Magno, E., Swanson, G., Desai, V., Voigt, R. M., Forsyth, C. B., & Keshavarzian, A. (2017). Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation. Alcohol research : current reviews, 38(2), 163–171.
Konturek, P. C., Harsch, I. A., Konturek, K., Schink, M., Konturek, T., Neurath, M. F., & Zopf, Y. (2018). Gut⁻Liver Axis: How Do Gut Bacteria Influence the Liver?. Medical sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 79. https://doi.org/10.3390/medsci6030079
Meroni, M., Longo, M., & Dongiovanni, P. (2019). Alcohol or Gut Microbiota: Who Is the Guilty?. International journal of molecular sciences, 20(18), 4568. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms20184568
Zakhari S. (2006). Overview: how is alcohol metabolized by the body?. Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 29(4), 245–254.