Alcohol and Your Gut

alcohol and gut

If you have been following posts on myguthealthtoday.com, you have undoubtedly learned how delicate gut health is and how important the gut is to overall health and wellbeing. Simple changes in mood or eating habits can have profound effects on the gut microbiome and cause dysbiosis, or imbalance, in gut flora and fauna. As sophisticated and sturdy as humans appear, maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria in the intestines can be more difficult than most understand, so it’s time to add alcohol consumption to the gut health equation.

Alcohol is known to impair judgment and affect coordination and balance. But recent research shows that alcohol also has a negative effect on the gastrointestinal tract causing inflammation, decreased integrity of the intestinal barrier, and disruption of the balance of gut bacteria. So before you binge drink on the Fourth of July, here is some information about how alcohol can have a lasting effect on your intestinal health.

Your gastrointestinal tract is home to a variety of bacteria responsible for digestion, mental health, and the immune system. Most of the time the good bacteria are able to keep the bad bacteria in check. The growth and health of these bacteria can be affected, both negatively and positively, by many factors. The most obvious factor is diet. A healthy and balanced diet, high in prebiotic rich food, like bananas and garlic, promotes healthy bacteria growth and allows it to flourish. Alternately, a diet high in refined sugar and artificial ingredients has a negative effect and causes an imbalance in the amount of good versus bad bacteria. Adding stress, medications like antibiotics, or alcohol to a poor diet further complicates and worsens the level of imbalance.

Alcohol is a key factor in both dysbiosis and the overgrowth of bad bacteria. The overgrowth leads to an increase of endotoxins, which are toxins that are released when bacteria cells disintegrate, leading to inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, or inflammatory bowel disease. Alcohol also affects the integrity of the gastrointestinal barrier, which leads to leaky gut syndrome. The gastrointestinal wall regulates the flow of substances between the GI tract and the bloodstream, allowing blood to absorb good things, like nutrients, while preventing the absorption of unhealthy things, like disease-causing organisms. The barrier can become leaky or “permeable,” allowing bad bacteria and other toxic substances into the bloodstream.

Heavy alcohol consumption causes cell death. This cell death leads to erosion of the lining of the intestinal wall, leading to increased permeability. Here you can see one bad thing leading to another. Alcohol leads to inflammation and leaky gut. Bad bacteria transfers into the bloodstream and flow to all the other organ systems within the body. Possible infection and additional inflammation occur throughout the body. A recipe for disaster all beginning in our gut.

Sadly, the safest and easiest way to protect your gut from alcohol is to simply not drink it. However, not all alcohol is “bad” for our gut health. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, red wine was found to be beneficial for the bacteria lining your gastrointestinal tract. Low-alcohol red wine had a positive effect by actually increasing the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Researchers believe this is due to the high levels of micronutrients called “polyphenols” that aid in fighting disease.

So, this summer when you are contemplating how you would like to spend your vacation or celebrate our nation’s birthday, throw in an extra thought about your gut health. Eat organic, drink red wine, and be merry!
 

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