Alcohol, for many of us, is a significant part of our culture and social lives. From passing around a bottle of wine at dinner, to meeting up with friends on a Friday night for drinks, to participating in happy hour with coworkers — it’s ingrained in our modern culture.
However, consumption of alcoholic beverages can really impact our health and wellbeing. It's by far the most dangerous substance, beating out heroin, crack cocaine, fentanyl for deaths, accidents and associated illnesses every year.
Just because something is normalized doesn't mean it's okay and as the American Institute for Cancer Research states: "There is no “safe” amount of alcohol that does not increase risk of at least some cancers."
Here are some of the ways in which alcohol consumption can impact the gut:
Increased alcohol consumption may actually impact the composition of our gut bugs! Some studies show that there may be a reduction in beneficial flora in the gut (such as lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium), and an increase in pathogenic species that are endotoxin producers.
We need to have a healthy balance between our “beneficial” flora in the gut vs. “opportunistic” flora in the gut, to maintain a healthy microbial environment.
A decrease in beneficial species, and an increase in pathogenic species in the gut microbiome (aka dysbiosis), can lead to digestive symptoms (like altered bowel movements and motility, bloating, gas, distention, etc), as well as increased inflammation in the digestive tract.
The Oral Microbiome
Did you know that we actually have a microbiome in our mouths, too? We do, and it actually has a significant impact on our gut microbiome!
Alcohol consumption has also been shown to impact our oral microbiome. With increased alcohol consumption, we may see a decrease in commensal (good) flora in the oral microbiome, as well as an increase in species that may be pathogenic.
An imbalance in the oral microbiome can not only lead to oral health concerns but potentially digestive health concerns as well.
Our intestinal lining is a delicate one-cell thick. The role of this lining, is to act as a barrier between the outside environment (our digestive tract), and our inner environment within the body, only allowing things to enter our bloodstream that our body needs (such as key nutrients), and keeping things that may be harmful to the body, out.
Alcohol consumption has been shown to impact the integrity of this delicate lining, increasing intestinal permeability, also known as “leaky gut.”
When the intestinal lining becomes permeable, or “leaky,” it can allow substances from inside our GI tract, to leak into our bloodstream. Substances like food particles, pathogenic metabolites, endotoxins, etc. that end up in our bloodstream can contribute to systemic inflammation, which can wreak havoc on many systems throughout the body.
To learn more about intestinal permeability, definitely check out this article here.
Alcohol, Stress + The Gut
Alcohol consumption, particularly on an empty stomach, can be stressful on the body.
When our body experiences stress (and the stress response is initiated), there are specific systems and processes in the body that become “deprioritized,” while the body prioritizes all functions that are imminent to survival. Digestion is one of those processes that becomes “deprioritized” when we’re in this state.
Over time, if this occurs repeatedly, the digestive function can become impacted, and we can see GI symptoms develop as a result.
If you’re going to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, try to at least enjoy it with a meal, or after eating a well-balanced, nutrient-dense meal.
Alcohol + Liver Health
Your liver is an important organ to consider when you are thinking about digestion and gut health. The liver processes toxins and produces bile, which your body needs to digest fats.
If you consume alcohol regularly, your liver will inevitably suffer some ill effects. This puts your gut at risk of experiencing issues with fat digestion, increasing likelihood of constipation, bloating and malabsorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
There are ways to support liver liver through occasional alcohol consumption, but there is no way to mitigate the long-term effects of regular consumption.
If you’re currently experiencing digestive issues or symptoms, avoiding alcohol intermittently could be a great idea while you work on healing your gut.
For more information on how to improve and optimize digestion, grab my free Beginners Guide to Gut Healing (it's jam-packed with tips on how to heal and improve your gut!).