In moderation, alcohol can be an enjoyable addition to a social occasion or a nice meal. However, more and more we are seeing the effects of excess alcohol consumption on people’s physical, mental and specifically, their gut health.
The Covid pandemic has led to an increase in alcohol consumption, particularly in drinking in the home, which may be particularly problematic as home measures are often a lot more generous than standard measures. As a result, people may be drinking far more standard drinks of alcohol per week than they realise. This is particularly important for women as the female liver is 30% smaller than the male liver and as alcohol is metabolised (broken down) in the liver, women are less efficient at metabolising it and more sensitive to its effects.
From the gut health perspective, alcohol can affect every part of your digestive system. Here are some of the topline effects that alcohol can have on your digestive system:
- Reduced health of the gums and teeth with an increased risk of cavities and erosion of the enamel
- It can cause heartburn and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
- It can cause gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) and gastric and duodenal ulcers
- It can damage the liver leading to a condition known as cirrhosis, where the liver is irreversibly damaged and does not work properly anymore
- It can damage the pancreas gland, which is vital for production of insulin and some important digestive enzymes
- It can lead to a thing called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This can lead to unpleasant symptoms of bloating, abdominal cramps, excessive wind/gas and diarrhoea
- Alcohol can have a significant negative effect on the healthy bacteria in our colon, the so-called gut microbiome. We have over 50 trillion bacteria making up the gut microbiome, and chronic alcohol intake reduces the variety and number of different species of bacteria in our gut. This change is called dysbiosis and is detrimental to gut and overall health
- Alcohol is high in calories and this can contribute to weight gain, particularly weight gain around the abdomen.
Alcohol and IBS
Aside from all of these effects, alcohol can trigger unpleasant symptoms in people who suffer with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). IBS is extremely common – it affects up to 1 in 10 adults. What’s more, it is up to 2.5 times more common in women than men, so that 7 out of every 10 people with IBS are female.
So alcohol is a trigger of IBS symptoms, IBS is more common in women and women are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol in general – you can see how alcohol may be particularly problematic for women who suffer from IBS.
The symptoms of IBS include stomach cramps, diarrhoea or constipation (or alternating between the two), abdominal bloating and excess wind/gas. These can all be made worse by alcohol.
The Drinkaware website is an excellent resource and has a lot of information regarding how much alcohol makes up one standard drink for all the different alcoholic beverages. At The Gut Experts, we strongly believe that people can enjoy alcohol safely but we want people to be aware of the many reasons for staying within those safe guidelines. Our gut and our gut bacteria do not like an excess of alcohol, so as with all things, we should listen to our gut.
The Gut Experts’ alcohol advice:
- Stay within recommended low-risk guidelines for alcohol consumption
- If you suffer with IBS, the less alcohol you drink, the better your gut symptoms
- Have at least 2-3 alcohol free days each week
- Drink with or after food, not on an empty tummy
- Try avoid foods that trigger IBS when drinking alcohol
- Alternate alcoholic drinks with water as alcohol dehydrates the body
- Beer tends to cause wind /gas and bloating
- Similarly, carbonated mixers in large quantities can cause gas and bloating
- Try low alcohol drinks
- Red wine has been shown to be beneficial to the gut microbiome, but total weekly consumption should be kept within recommended guidelines
- If you have IBS it is important to drink all alcohol in moderation. Certain alcohol types tend to trigger fewer gut symptoms than others.
About The Gut Experts
Professor of Gastroenterology, Barbara Ryan and Clinical Dietitian, Elaine McGowan want to improve people’s understanding and awareness about IBS. The more it is understood, the better people can be supported. Together they are sharing their medical and dietary expertise to educate and empower people to take action to restore their gut health and to find the best solutions for their gut problems. Between them they have cared for more than 60,000 patients.
Visit The Gut Experts website for more information or you can follow The Gut Experts on Instagram and Facebook @thegutexperts.