Alcohol and Gut Health: Can Drinking Throw You Off Balance?

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If you generally lead a healthy lifestyle, but suffer from unexplained digestive problems, you’re not alone. The gut is a complex place, and even with all of our advancements in science, we are still learning about the best way to care for it. One thing is for sure, however: If you’re drinking a lot of alcohol, it’s likely to affect your gut health.

But how much is too much? How does alcohol affect your gut? And aren’t there some types of alcohol that can actually help? Below, we’ll discuss the relationship of alcohol and gut health, and how you can keep your gut flora happy and healthy.

Effects of Alcohol on the Gut

set of scales, alcohol and gut health balance
Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which includes your mouth, stomach, and intestines, is the first part of your body to come into contact with alcohol. It’s probably not surprising, therefore, that excessive alcohol use can have a big impact on this area.

Some symptoms that your drinking habits are causing damage to your gut include:

Alcohol and Leaky Gut

Your GI tract is naturally permeable to allow nutrients and minerals to pass through the intestinal lining and into your bloodstream. But a healthy GI tract also acts as a protective barrier to keep toxins out of your blood.

Excessive alcohol use can weaken this barrier, by damaging the cells that line the intestinal walls. This condition is also known as leaky gut syndrome, and allows toxins, bacteria, and even food particles to flow out of the GI tract and into the bloodstream.

A leaky gut can increase inflammation, and has been linked to multiple other health conditions—including diabetes, arthritis, allergies, and even mental health problems.

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Alcohol and Stomach Bacteria

In addition to increased gut permeability, heavy drinking can throw your gut microbiome off balance, resulting in an overgrowth of bad bacteria.

Your gut contains more than 500 types of good and bad bacteria. A healthy gut achieves homeostasis or equilibrium when the good bacteria and bad bacteria balance each other out.

Chronic, excessive drinking tilts the balance towards the more harmful bacteria. These, in turn, can release toxins that worsen gut inflammation. But that’s only the beginning. An imbalanced gut may lead to:

  • Digestive problems, such as constipation, diarrhea, gas, and bloating
  • Increased fatigue and lack of energy
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Food allergies and intolerances
  • Skin problems
  • Difficulty regulating emotions

Does Alcohol Kill Gut Bacteria

does alcohol kill harmful bacteria like salmonella?
Photo by Arek Socha on Pixabay

Not only can alcohol throw your gut out of balance, it can also kill some types of gut bacteria. This isn’t surprising, considering alcohol is incorporated in disinfectants like hand sanitizer and mouthwash.

This may not always be a bad thing. For example, moderate alcohol consumption can help kill bacteria like salmonella, which causes food poisoning. However, chronic, heavy alcohol use can also kill the good bacteria your body requires to function well.

Best Alcohol for Gut Health

Excessive alcohol use is bad for your gut health no matter what type you choose. But there are some alcoholic beverages that might have positive impacts in moderation.

Red wine is one example. This beverage is rich in polyphenols—micronutrients which may increase good gut bacteria, and reduce inflammation.

According to research, however, one serving every week or two is enough to benefit your gut. And many types of fruit have more polyphenols than red wine.

In summary, if you are a social drinker who rarely has more than a glass or two, alcohol is unlikely to damage your gut. It may even have some minor benefits. However, chronic, excessive drinking is dangerous for your gut microbiome—and many aspects of your health in general.

What You Can Do to Improve Gut Health

If you are struggling with GI tract issues—such as inflammation, bacterial overgrowth, or leaky gut—your doctor will probably recommend that you improve your diet. This usually means cutting out processed foods, and increasing your consumption of vegetables and probiotic foods. It also likely means cutting back or quitting alcohol.

If you’d like to cut back on drinking, but are finding it harder than you expected, there are new ways of getting help. Ria Health offers comprehensive support from an app on your smartphone. You don’t even need to identify as an alcoholic!

Learn more about how it works, or speak with a member of our team today.

Written By:
Ria Health Team
Our experienced team is committed to transforming alcohol addiction treatment.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
NYC-based content strategist with over 3 years editing and writing in the recovery space. Strong believer in accessible, empathic, and fact-based communication.
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