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Now alcohol is definitely not a necessary requirement for health but it can be nice to have a glass of wine for dinner or to have a drink in celebration.
Today we’re going to focus on how alcohol can impact your digestion and possibly contribute to leaky gut. Keep in mind these effects are a bigger deal when alcohol isn’t enjoyed responsibly.
At the end we’ll also cover how to choose the best drink for your gut.
Why alcohol takes priority with the digestive system
There are 3 phases of your digestive system: digest, absorb, and excrete.
When it comes to alcohol it skips the first phase and goes straight to absorption. Alcohol is absorbed quickly by the body and this is why you can feel tipsy not long after you’ve had your first sip.
Once alcohol is absorbed in the stomach it makes its way to the liver to be metabolized. Your liver will work overtime to get rid of the alcohol because it is technically a toxin. If you drink quicker than your body can get rid of the alcohol that is when you’ll get that hangover.
Your stomach can impact how you react to drinking.
If you have a big meal before you drink you won’t feel the effects as quickly because the food prevents the alcohol from getting absorbed so quickly. Also, if you have a meal that slows down digestion (like a high-fat meal) that can impact how quickly alcohol is metabolized.
What is leaky gut
Your digestive system has a lining that’s important to digestion while also acting as a barrier. The lining allows nutrients from your food to pass through but it also protects your body by not allowing anything bad to cross over.
Think of leaky gut like the bouncer at a bar.
You have someone there to check IDs and allow those who are 21 and over to pass. Those people that are passing through are things like the nutrients from your food.
Leaky gut is like having a bouncer that has to cover a big open area and the line is crazy long. People that shouldn’t pass make it through the ropes.
How alcohol and leaky gut are connected
Alcohol is one factor that can contribute to leaky gut. It can impact your gut barrier, make you poop, and alcohol can even impact your gut microbiome.
Drinking can upset your gut barrier
When someone does abuse alcohol it could also upset the stomach lining (3). In addition to alcohol abuse being associated with intestinal permeability, it is associated with gut dysbiosis which is an imbalance of gut bacteria (2).
Alcohol can make you poop (or not poop)
Alcohol can be a gut irritant which could result in some changes in pooping.
While there isn’t a solid study to back this up it’s not uncommon for people to report having looser bowel movements after a night of drinking. Alternatively, you may notice that alcohol makes you constipated and that may be in part to it being a diuretic.
Don’t forget about how you eat when you drink.
Oftentimes when you drink you are probably eating rich foods or foods you don’t often have. Those factors combined with high alcohol can also upset your stomach. Beverages high in alcohol may delay stomach emptying which can leave your stomach feeling upset (3).
Alcohol can change your gut microbiome
Your gut microbiome can also be impacted by alcohol.
Your gut microbiome includes all the different bacteria that naturally live there and drinking can cause gut bacteria imbalances. The gut bacteria imbalances combined with a leaky gut may contribute to liver diseases (4).
Your gut microbiome may even become a strategy that health professionals target to improve leaky gut.
A study using rats found that a synbiotic improved leaky gut and reduced stress in their colon (5). A synbiotic is a mix of a probiotic (bacteria) and a prebiotic (food for gut bacteria). It will be interesting to see more research on how these two components work together to improve the gut barrier and microbiome.
How to choose the best drink for your gut
Everyone will react differently to different types of alcohol so there is no one best drink for everyone. So this is where you can incorporate some aspects of mindfulness to find the best drink that works for your gut.
Drink with intention
Much like how you want to eat with intention (one of the principles of The Mindful Gut™) you also want to drink with intention. When you are intentional it helps you build self-awareness and means you’re in control.
If you know that you’re going to have a drink that will most likely upset your gut then there are a couple things you can do to prepare.
Before your event stick with your gut-friendly foods so that you go to your event with a happy gut. The same rule applies after an event. Stick with foods you know agree with you so that your recovery from a lot of rich foods is easier. Lastly, make sure you hydrate in between drinks and the day after.
Check other ingredients
To minimize gut upset, choose a drink that has ingredients you know work for you.
For example, that may mean skipping a mixed drink with fruit juice because you already know that fructose (a naturally occurring sugar in fruit) makes you go to the bathroom. Or skip adding soda to your spirits because the carbonation in soda makes you feel bloated.
Try a mocktail
Skip the alcohol all together and go for a mocktail.
Sometimes it’s just nice to have a drink in hand when you are at a party and a mocktail fits the bill. You can even look into mineral mocktails which are a mix of ingredients that are mineral rich. Minerals are important for muscles, blood sugar, and energy.
A lot of the studies focus on alcohol abuse so a night where you enjoy a drink doesn’t automatically translate to horrible things for your gut health.
Enjoy responsibly and remember that alcohol isn’t the only thing that can mess with your gut barrier. Stress and your daily diet are key players.
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- Martel J, Chang SH, Ko YF, Hwang TL, Young JD, Ojcius DM. Gut barrier disruption and chronic disease. Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2022 Apr;33(4):247-265. doi: 10.1016/j.tem.2022.01.002. Epub 2022 Feb 9. PMID: 35151560.
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- Pohl K, Moodley P, Dhanda AD. Alcohol’s Impact on the Gut and Liver. Nutrients. 2021 Sep 11;13(9):3170. doi: 10.3390/nu13093170. PMID: 34579046; PMCID: PMC8472839.
- Patel D, Desai C, Singh D, Soppina V, Parwani K, Patel F, Mandal P. Synbiotic Intervention Ameliorates Oxidative Stress and Gut Permeability in an In Vitro and In Vivo Model of Ethanol-Induced Intestinal Dysbiosis. Biomedicines. 2022 Dec 19;10(12):3285. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines10123285. PMID: 36552041.
Amanda is a pizza loving registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in mindfulness and gut health. She quickly realized that gut health goes beyond the gut; it is also about honoring our gut feelings. She is the creator of The Mindful Gut™ which uses science and strategy to help people improve their gut health.