alcohol and your gut

I don’t know what it's like where you are, but in Australia, drinking alcohol is a common way to relax, to enjoy social occasions and to celebrate.

In my 20’s and early 30’s I was a big social drinker, I didn’t drink at home during the week but I always drank when I went out on the weekends for dinner, for sporting events or social events and more often than not I drank a few too many. Whoops!

When I first started to explore the causes of my digestive issues and other health concerns I realised that I had an allergic type reaction to alcohol. It was probably there long before I noticed it but that’s the thing, I thought that what I felt was normal until I started to pay more attention to it. I would get bloated after every drink, more so with beer, and I would get a hay fever type reaction such as a runny and blocked nose and itchy eyes. The day after wasn’t much better as I would often feel nauseous, or have a dull ache in my belly and it would take a few days for my immune system to calm down.

so is alcohol good for your gut?

Alcohol stimulates the secretion of gastric acid in the stomach which makes the stomach more acidic (hence the discomfort in the belly) and histamine (hence the allergic type reactions and inflammation).

Alcohol can also irritate the lining of the gut, which is not good news for IBS or digestive issues. Plus there are many adverse effects on the liver, the metabolism and absorption of vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy functioning body, gut permeability and on the brain.

If your liver cannot keep up with the amount of alcohol you are drinking, the alcohol circulates until it can. This means that it will affect other organs again and again. Alcohol absorption also takes priority over important nutrients in the gut which can lead to nutrient deficiencies, and it can lead to fat gain if the extra energy is not used.

how much alcohol should you drink?

Avoiding alcohol for 30 days during my first Whole30 really highlighted the adverse reactions I experienced. Fast forward a few years and you’ll now find that I don’t drink much at all. Maybe one glass of wine occasionally. Because gut health is something that I need to work on every day, I am very aware of the backward steps my digestive and overall heath would take if I was to drink like I used to.

In Australia the recommendation is no more than two standard drinks per day and no more than four on a single occasion. Two drinks equates to about 2 glasses of red wine (100ml each), two mid strength beers or 2 nips of spirits (30ml each).

Whilst this may be the recommendation for the general population, it’s really important to listen to your body and note how it makes you feel. As everyone metabolises alcohol differently, your tolerance may be completely different to the person next to you. By observing how it affects you, you will be able to make an informed decision about alcohol and how much, and when you choose to consume it.

alcohol care tips

Here are some practical tips to help care for your body when drinking alcohol:

  • Drink alcohol with food or after a meal – when consuming on a full stomach, less alcohol will be absorbed through the lining of your stomach and small intestine
  • Drink alcohol slowly – this allows the enzymes that metabolise alcohol to cope with the amount of alcohol entering your body
  • Drink water – as alcohol is a diuretic, you will pass more urine and may become dehydrated, which is not good for a sluggish digestive system, particularly if your suffer from constipation or diarrhoea
  • Drink because you want to and because its worth it – don’t drink because you feel obliged to and only drink when you are prepared to handle any adverse effects
  • If you do drink too much – coffee and exercise won’t help the liver metabolise alcohol any quicker, only time can do that, so drink water and wait it out

So take care when consuming alcohol and remember to listen to your gut and your body.

references

  • Dropper, S & Smith, J 2013, Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, 6th edn, Wadsworth, Belmont.
  • Watson, R 2013, Bioactive food as dietary interventions for liver and gastrointestinal disease, Academic Press, San Diego.
  • Whitney, E et al. 2014, Understanding Nutrition: Australian & New Zealand Edition, 2nd edn, Cengage Learning, South Melbourne.