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2021-12-14

The Truth About Alcohol and Your Gut

Nutrition • Recipe • Stress

What impact does alcohol have on your gut health, and why? And perhaps just as importantly, what can you do to mitigate this impact if you're planning to have a drink or two? Gut Health Specialist Eve Kalinik, explains.

Now anyone that knows me also knows that I love a drop (or two!) of red wine, and here at KÄLLA we all enjoy a glass of our favourite tipple. Since we are also in the business of gut health we know that too much of a good thing, certainly when it comes to booze, isn’t always the case.

Now we all know the ‘squiffy’ side effects from a night of boozing that can include headaches, nausea and changes in bowel movements – this is actually referred to as DADS (day after drinking stools). However aside from a bad hangover there are more fundamental effects that alcohol can have on the gut. 

"Alcohol can directly impact on the composition of the gut microbiome leading to ‘dysbiosis,’ which is an imbalance of microbes in the gut. This means we have less of the ‘good bugs’ and more of the not so friendly bacteria."

Firstly, it can directly impact on the composition of the gut microbiome leading to ‘dysbiosis,’ which is an imbalance of microbes in the gut. This means we have less of the ‘good bugs’ and more of the not so friendly bacteria. Where dysbiosis occurs, this can result in direct gut symptoms that include excessive bloating and gas, inconsistent bowel movements such as constipation or diarrhoea and more broadly may also impact on the functioning of the immune system, mood, hormone balancing and how we manage inflammation. On the flip side, and rather ironically, a gut microbiome that is out of whack negatively effects how we are able to metabolise alcohol as our gut microbes have an important role in helping us to detoxify alcohol. We need more of the good bugs to help us do that efficiently.

High amounts of alcohol can also inhibit the production of digestive enzymes and gastric secretions as the body essentially prioritises metabolising the one too many wines you may have had. This compromises the ability of the gut to properly breakdown and absorb nutrients from our food. With this partially digested food it can lead to all sorts of symptoms such as gas, bloating, burping and looser stools which are definitely not welcome when you are on a night out. 

In addition, excessive alcohol can also create inflammation in the gut and with that a more permeable gut lining which is often referred to as ‘leaky gut’. However, this increased inflammation is not solely limited to the gut. As the gut becomes more permeable or ‘leaky’ it can result in substances that should stay in the gut moving out into the bloodstream which can set off a whole cascade of inflammatory immune responses as well as heightened reactions to foods. Leaky gut is definitely not worth the copious shots of tequila!

"Small amounts of red wine have been shown to have a positive effect on the composition of the gut microbiome due to their polyphenol content."

And finally, we all know that after a few drinks our food choices can also be somewhat skewed and we tend to gravitate towards the ultra-processed and largely beige foods. Not only are these typically devoid in fibre which we need to support our gut health, but they can contain chemical additives that directly disrupt the gut microbiome. And to be clear here, the odd bacon sandwich is not going to have a major disastrous effect, but if you are doing this on a regular basis it can soon add up.

BUT it isn’t all woeful when it comes to booze and the gut, as small amounts of red wine have been shown to have a positive effect on the composition of the gut microbiome due to the polyphenols (special plant chemicals) contained in red wine. That’s a moderate glass here and there though and not a green light to go drinking a bottle a night in the purpose of ‘supporting your gut health’.

There are also some things we can do to caveat some of the side effects on the gut from alcohol, especially at times like Christmas when it might be more ‘free flowing’ so to speak…

PRACTICE MINDFUL DRINKING

Drinking mindfully with a considered approach to alcohol is the most sustainable way to develop a healthy relationship with alcohol. It essentially means being more conscious of the amount and the frequency of what we are drinking. Also, reflecting on why we are drinking can also be crucial for many people. Moreover, we don’t necessarily need to drink alcohol to have fun and there are plenty of non-alcoholic versions that are delicious and give that same sense of reward.

KNOW THAT EATING IS NOT CHEATING

Never EVER drink on an empty stomach, as this is like putting gasoline on the fire in terms of creating inflammation in our gut. Always have something to eat before you go out.

TAKE A PROBIOTIC

Use a clinical backed probiotic to help mitigate the damage to the gut microbiome especially after a heavy night or over holiday periods like Christmas. KÄLLA FOR RELIEF is perfect for this.

CONSIDER WHAT YOU EAT THE DAY AFTER

Try to make more nourishing food choices the day after a night out, which will help to replenish and restore your gut. Some tasty options could be sourdough with poached and avocado, porridge with berries or even more simply some natural yogurt with nuts & seeds.

Eve Kalinik, Gut Health Specialist

Nutritional Therapist, Author and Podcaster, Eve Kalinik believes that having a healthy gut is fundamental to our overall well-being. She is a registered member of (BANT)(CNHC) and accredited by (IFM).