It seems that the jury is still out on the effects of alcohol, with different articles suggesting both positive and negative effects of red wine on long term health. But what does alcohol do to the gut, and is the jury out regarding that?
Alcohol may seem like the perfect addition to get a party going, but the effect it has on the gut and microbiota is no fun indeed. Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to stomach inflammation, which causes heartburn, acid reflux, and sometimes long-term damage to the oesophagus. To add to that, once alcohol reaches our intestines it can damage the lining, making it harder to absorb certain nutrients whilst also reducing the number of both good and bad bacteria.
Alcohol and the Gut Microbiome
The gut bacteria are critical for good overall health. Split into one of four groups; Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria or Proteobacteria, each play an important role in health and require different nutrients to function. The gut bacteria not only help with digestion, but also help to destroy to produce vitamin K, folate and short-chain fatty acids.
Consumption of alcohol leads to gut dysbiosis which is when the gut flora contains too many harmful bacteria and not enough friendly bacteria.
Both dysbiosis and the reduction of diversity in gut bacteria have been linked to conditions such as insulin resistance, weight gain, inflammation, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer. The alcohol induced changes in the gut microbiome has also been shown to lead to further oxidative stress, greater intestinal absorption of bacterial products, and the development of alcoholic liver disease. This has also been shown to affect the immune response and balance within the intestines, where we know a lot of communication is carried out between our immune cells and gut microbiome.
Although the evidence is strong in regards the damage that excessive alcohol consumption can have on our gut, its not all doom and gloom. I mentioned red wine earlier, and although the evidence isn’t conclusive, it is rich in polyphenols that may increase good gut bacteria and help to reduce overall inflammation. One or two units of red wine may be sufficient to achieve this, but also remember that a lot of fruits have more polyphenols than that inside your glass.
So, the verdict on alcohol and the gut?
If you are a social drinker who rarely has more than a glass or two, alcohol is unlikely to damage your gut. However, long term excessive drinking poses a danger for your gut microbiome and overall health. Here are some of my tips to help you with your alcohol intake:
1. See where you can reduce your alcohol intake. Ask yourself if you really want to drink that glass or can you get on by and still enjoy yourself?
2. Look at other alternatives to your favourite tipple or bubbles that you may enjoy equally so, if not more.
3. If you do choose to drink, see where you can keep it to a minimum, space it out by taking smaller sips and add water or another beverage in between to keep yourself hydrated
4. Keep on top of well balanced meals full of natural sources of probiotics and fibre to support your overall gut microbiome