How to Drink for Your Gut Microbiome: The Effects of Alcohol on the Digestive System

Key Points: 


  • The microbiome is a key component when it comes to the digestion and absorption of alcoholic drinks. Since alcohol can kill off your healthy bacteria, taking steps to protect your gut health is essential when consuming a beverage.
  • Alcohol affects your cells in almost the same way it affects you. Your cells may experience a sense of sleepiness or become less alert when under the influence. Over time, mitochondria damage can occur, too.
  • Apply a few safe drinking habits to ensure your microbiome and cellular health remains intact when you’re enjoying your favorite cocktail. And of course, exercise moderation. (Is that extra drink ever worth the hangover the next day?)

Champagne to celebrate the bride and groom, wine for a fancy Italian date night, and beer for the Sunday night game. We often take it for granted in various situations, for good reason. Alcohol is a common language across the globe and the consumption of it dates back for centuries.

But beyond calorie counting and basic responsible drinking habits, most people don’t think about how wine and other alcoholic drinks affect their health. But alcohol can actually have a severely negative impact on the gut if not consumed with care.

Let’s explore the connection between the gut, the brain, and alcohol.

Table of Contents: 

How Alcohol Can Damage the Digestive System

Is alcohol definitively bad for your gut health? The answer is: maybe. It truly depends on the person. Actually, how you handle alcohol is a good indication of the state of your gut microbiome.

To truly understand alcohol’s effect on the gut, you have to know how it metabolizes in the body. Your microbiome plays an essential role in the digestion of alcoholic drinks — which is why you might handle your liquor better than a friend or vice versa. 

Next time you go out drinking, pay attention to how your body feels after one or two drinks, and the next day. This could offer a window into the state of your gut health. 

If you feel off (fatigue, brain fog, anxious or irritable) or downright crummy post-drinking, your gut probably doesn’t handle alcohol very well. If you feel fine, you have a pretty robust microbiome that can handle a drink or two. Of course, most people will feel the negative side effects of drinking anywhere over that amount regardless. 

Of course, the long term effects of consistent alcohol consumption are a totally different ballgame. An occasional celebratory beverage or two is one thing. However, regular and irresponsible drinking can damage the gut lining over time — leaking food particles into your bloodstream and causing long-term inflammation (the technical name for this is “leaky gut”). 

Does Alcohol Damage the Stomach?

Moderation is key when it comes to alcoholic drinks. Heavy consumption disrupts your normal eating schedule and digestion process, which could lead to diarrhea, constipation, and cramps. 

It can also kill off your healthy gut bacteria and cause a condition called gastritis, where the stomach lining becomes inflamed and begins to wear away. So yes, too much alcohol can definitely cause damage to your stomach. 

Liver and Large Intestine Damage

When we think of alcohol damage, we most often consider the liver. The liver is the body’s main detoxification system — and too many toxins can shut down the process, wreaking havoc on the cells and immune system. 

But did you know that alcohol can wear down on your microbiome, enter the bloodstream, and cause free radical damage to your internal organs? One major organ at risk is your large intestine. Over time, tissue damage and chronic inflammation may occur, increasing the risk of bloating, gas, cramping, and even some forms of cancer.

Alcohol and the Gut Microbiome

Trillions of microscopic bacteria make a home in your gut — and their health and prosperity are extremely influential in your own wellbeing. Your whole body health is directed by the compass of your microbiome. Here’s how to take care of it while enjoying your favorite bubbly.

  • Never Drink on an Empty Stomach

Perhaps this is a guideline you’re already familiar with. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach heightens its effect on the body. What you might not know is that it also leaves your intestinal lining open for more immediate damage. Protect that gut lining and your microbiome by having a full meal before your glass of wine.

  • Avoid Sugary Drinks

If you go out to a bar intending to have a few drinks, commit to choosing less sugary options. Sugar consumption can spike your blood sugar and make you crave even more alcohol. It might also make your hangover worse and tempt you to eat a burger and fries on the way home. Commit to drinking alcohol with naturally occurring sugars and sugarless mixers like seltzer water that are easier on your body.

  • Beer Is (Probably) Not Your Friend

Since beer is created with significant amounts of gluten and yeast, it can be especially difficult for the body to digest. If beer is your drink of choice, try to consume only the highest quality or opt for a gluten-free option. Not all beer is created equal!

Can You Drink Alcohol While Taking Probiotic Supplements?

Technically, you can. The combination of alcohol and probiotic supplements won’t create any uncomfortable side effects. But heavy drinking will defeat the purpose of using expensive probiotic supplements. Alcohol can kill the good bacteria in your gut and it can easily kill the probiotics you are trying to rehome.

To remedy this, take your probiotic supplements early in the day — long before your first drink. That way, the new friendly bacteria will have time to take effect. When you do drink, do so responsibly and choose alcohols that are less likely to affect your microbiome. 

How to Restore Your Gut after Drinking 

You stayed out too late with the girls last week. Or maybe bottomless mimosas at brunch got a little out of hand. Whether your struggle with alcohol began today or years ago, it is possible to restore your gut after drinking.

Prebiotic or  probiotic  supplements can help for immediate triage post-drinking, as well as a healthy, nutritious diet. If you’re experiencing symptoms of extreme gut dysbiosis like severe bloating, gas, or irregularity, it may be beneficial to work with a holistic practitioner to help build back your microbiome for healthy digestion.

Remember, there is always hope when it comes to your health. You are wired to heal.

The Best Alcohol for Gut Health 

Taking care of your health doesn’t have to mean sacrificing drinks with friends. If you enjoy poolside margaritas or a few bar outings, there are some options that may be easier on your gut.

  • Opt for Tequila

Surprise! Tequila (high quality tequila, mind you) is actually a prebiotic drink, made from fermented agave. It has a few other health benefits, too, including blood sugar balancing properties. Switch out your sugary mixer for sparkling mineral water and a splash of citrus for Vitamin C. This is a relatively microbiome-safe way to indulge — and it’s delicious.

  • Drink Red Wine

Red wine has antioxidants and polyphenols, which are great for the gut and the immune system. Although it’s sweet, the sugar is naturally occurring through the fermentation process, and it’s typically less than liquors like rum or sugary mixed drinks.

Enhance Your Gut Health with BodyBio

Keeping cellular and digestive health in mind is essential when it comes to alcohol consumption. If you feel sluggish or bloated after just one or two glasses of wine, it might be time to implement some diet changes and offer a little more internal support to your gut. You may have to take a break from alcohol for some time to make progress on gut healing, but trust us, the trade off is well worth it. 

BodyBio Butyrate helps you prioritize gut and cellular health, supports your energy-producing  mitochondria , and tames uncomfortable symptoms like gas and bloating. That way, when a celebration is called for, you can raise a glass with your loved ones. Cheers!

References

Bishehsari, F., Magno, E., Swanson, G., Desai, V., Voigt, R. M., Forsyth, C. B., & Keshavarzian, A. (2017). Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation. Alcohol research : current reviews, 38(2), 163–171.


Koop D. R. (2006). Alcohol metabolism's damaging effects on the cell: a focus on reactive oxygen generation by the enzyme cytochrome P450 2E1. Alcohol research & health : the journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 29(4), 274–280.


Manzo-Avalos, S., & Saavedra-Molina, A. (2010). Cellular and mitochondrial effects of alcohol consumption. International journal of environmental research and public health, 7(12), 4281–4304. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph7124281


Snopek, L., Mlcek, J., Sochorova, L., Baron, M., Hlavacova, I., Jurikova, T., Kizek, R., Sedlackova, E., & Sochor, J. (2018). Contribution of Red Wine Consumption to Human Health Protection. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 23(7), 1684. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules23071684


Purohit, V., Bode, J. C., Bode, C., Brenner, D. A., Choudhry, M. A., Hamilton, F., Kang, Y. J., Keshavarzian, A., Rao, R., Sartor, R. B., Swanson, C., & Turner, J. R. (2008). Alcohol, intestinal bacterial growth, intestinal permeability to endotoxin, and medical consequences: summary of a symposium. Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.), 42(5), 349–361. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.alcohol.2008.03.131

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