Does alcohol cause leaky gut? How much drinking is too much? Here is my balanced opinion on alcohol and leaky gut…
Yes, alcohol does contribute to leaky gut. But no, I do not abstain from it. Here’s why…
I think the most enjoyable times are those spent with friends and family. From sharing a nice meal together in the city to long afternoon cookouts in the backyard, these are the times I love.
During these times we often like to share a bottle of wine or try some new beers together, and it’s always fun. Stories flow, laughs are had and it makes for great memories. I don’t want to say goodbye to that.
But if you are currently suffering leaky gut, I have some bad news for you. Unfortunately for you, an unhealthy gut is no place for alcohol. Let me explain…
Why I abstained from alcohol for 3 months, healed my leaky gut and exactly how you can do it too
Stomach pains. Daily heartburn. Bad asthma.
Hello leaky gut my good friend!
When I enjoyed this daily triumvirate of symptoms for a month straight, I decided it was time to really tackle leaky gut head on. That meant I had to get hardcore.
Eating my paleo-SCD style diet was no longer good enough. It was time to take out all the other things that were ever so slightly contributing to leaky gut. And alcohol was one of them.
You see, to fully heal your leaky gut you have to go through a sustained period of time where you literally abstain from all contributory factors, not just some. There are no half measures it turns out.
So for 3 months I ditched all drinks. San Pellegrino was my new BFF. And wow, did it work!
Obviously, alcohol abstinence alone did not heal my leaky gut, but it was definitely one of the final missing pieces.
That’s why I implore you to do the same.
3 main reasons I ditched alcohol to repair my gut
- Alcohol stops you from digesting your food properly. That’s a pretty big problem! You see, here’s the nasty thing about alcohol. What it does is decrease the secretion of digestive enzymes from your pancreas. And enzymes are what breakdown the food/nutrients we eat and turn them into the kinda stuff our body can use to repair itself and be healthy. Being able to digest your food well is one of the cornerstones of healing your leaky gut. Most importantly, if you keep drinking whilst suffering from leaky gut, you will end up with a vicious cycle of indigestion. E.g. Nutrients like folate don’t get absorbed, which leads to other nutrients like glucose and sodium not getting absorbed, which leads to further intestinal damage, aka leaky gut. What we see in chronic alcoholics is that their digestion system literally stops working as their pancreas is no longer able to secrete even a moderate amount of digestive enzymes.
- Alcohol reduces the production of prostaglandins, and they’re pretty important for us leaky gut sufferers. So as you know inflammation is our gut’s enemy. And since prostaglandins help moderate inflammation, they’re kind of like our hero. In other words, drinking alcohol is basically like asking Superman to save you whilst you throw kryptonite at him. Not very smart. That said, prostaglandin production can survive a temporary hit, e.g. From a weekend of moderate drinking with friends. What it cannot survive though is frequent binge drinking or daily/habitual drinking. So whilst casual drinking may be okay, alcohol abuse definitely is not. And whilst you have leaky gut, even casual drinking is out, because you need your superhero (prostaglandin) in tip top condition so it can keep inflammation in check.
- Alcohol makes your gut’s ‘bouncers’ drunk. Haha, yes that sentence is definitely going to need some explaining. Okay, so basically your gut is permeable. And there are tight junctions, I’ll call them bouncers (like at a night club), that decide what gets through your gut and into your bloodstream, and what doesn’t. Now usually these guys are reliable. They’ll let in people on the guest list, like nutrients. And they’ll keep out the uninvited fellas, like undigested food particles and toxins. Unfortunately alcohol inhibits their decision making, just like it does yours (2am kebab anyone?). Said differently, alcohol changes the gene expression of the proteins involved in tight junction function. And what that means, is now these ‘bouncers’ start letting uninvited fellas like toxins into your bloodstream, which of course leads to inflammation. Hello leaky gut!
It’s not just the alcohol that causes leaky gut…these 3 things may be even more important!
Sure, alcohol is bad for your gut. But if all that talk of enzymes, prostaglandins and tight junction function didn’t scare the bejeezus out of you, surely this will.
Worse than alcohol is the knock on effects it produces, which when taken together can absolutely annihilate your gut health. In fact, in most people I hear from about leaky gut, I usually find these knock on causes to be the real culprit.
Whether you drink socially or more frequently, you probably suffer from the following now and then…
- Use of NSAIDs, like aspirin or ibuprofen due to a hangover. Sunday mornings are Advil’s best friend. Throughout the nation people pop these little nuggets of relief almost weekly, if not more. Unfortunately, NSAIDs eat away at your gut lining, just like alcohol does. They too suppress prostaglandin production. So when you combine them back to back with a night out drinking, you go from throwing little chunks of kryptonite at prostaglandin, your superhero, to blasting him with bunker-busting payloads of kryptonite! In addition, NSAIDs will irritate the intestinal lining and decrease mucosal levels. To illustrate the importance of mucosal levels, think of the layer of mucus protecting your intestinal lining like a prophylactic. If you value the latter, you should value the former too. Enough said. Side note: If you are taking NSAIDs per a doctor’s prescription or as part of a wider pain management program – and not just for hangovers – please consult your doctor.
- Interrupted or reduced sleep. Although alcohol does a great job of sending us to sleep, it sucks when it comes to keeping us asleep. Worse yet, it effects the quality of your sleep. An 8 hour sleep in on a Sunday will not be equal to that on any other normal night. Plus alcohol use often keeps us up late, e.g. night out on the town, which further impacts sleep. If you’ve ever been to a business dinner on a Thursday that wrapped up past midnight and then had to wake up at 6am Friday you’ll know what I mean. You’re probably then wondering, how does poor sleep exacerbate leaky gut? Firstly, less sleep means less chance for the body to repair itself. And if you have leaky gut your body is literally fighting to recover every day against the chronic inflammation. Secondly, disrupted circadian rhythms also make us more susceptible to liver damage and intestinal permeability in general, aka leaky gut.
- Stress. Alcohol stresses the body from both a physiological and psychological perspective. Although it is less pronounced in casual drinkers, it can be quite severe in habitual or binge drinkers. Either way, this added stress further reduces the body’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients, meaning more leaky gut.
Alcohol, leaky gut and the long term – or why I gave up for 3 months, but now can drink occasionally
After reading this you’re probably thinking alcohol is out. And well, if you have leaky gut it definitely is…until you heal it, that is.
That’s the great news I have for you. You see, once I had spent 90 days on the strictest of strict protocols – good diet, quality supplements, no baddies like alcohol etc – my gut was in great shape.
It could handle a few glasses of red wine here and there.
But to keep it in great shape and avoid slipping back to leaky gut territory – something I see so many people do – I have 3 tricks up my sleeve.
- No beer. I absolutely love beer. Belgian beers like Duvel are packed with flavors you just can’t find in any other drink. But beer is also the last thing those of us susceptible to leaky gut should be drinking, especially those of us with gluten sensitivity. The alcohol content is of course bad. But the gluten, and other grains in general, found in beers – not to mention the candida-causing yeast – is even worse. So trick #1 is simple. Beer is out!
- Probiotics & prebiotics. I consume these like the cookie monster. Every day I try to eat food that contains these, eg a serving of sauerkraut for probiotics and a green banana for prebiotics. But I also take this all-in-one probiotic prebiotic supplement my research team and I designed after months of research and testing. Although I like to get my nutrients in food form, I get sick of eating things like sauerkraut and unripe bananas pretty quickly. And that’s why I like to use supplements. So why do I love probiotic-prebiotic combos? Well, it turns out that consuming them may give your gut a protective barrier against alcohol. In a study on rats, it showed this combination as distilling a protective effect from the damages of alcohol, including on the liver. You are by no means invincible, but it is the kind of insurance I like. More importantly, probiotics in general will feed the good bacteria of your gut and make it more ready for intestinal warfare! I know that when I travel for a few days on holiday, dosing with probiotic-prebiotic supplement seems to settle things, even if I have a few glasses of wine. Things feel good!
- Zinc. This little guy has a great effect on the mucosal levels of our guts – ie the protective layer of mucus lining our intestines. More mucus, means more protection from leaky gut. And that’s really important because alcohol and NSAIDs hammer away at this layer every time we take them. So what I do is every day I take a multi with zinc in it. Job done!
So as you can see alcohol has a very complex relationship with the gut. It is definitely not a friend of those with leaky gut. But once you heal your leaky gut (here’s how I did it) it’s kind of like an acquaintance from work…
…You can invite them to some of your get togethers, but definitely not all. Moderation is the name of this game.
(Oh and never invite that weird guy that sits in the corner talking to himself, he’s bad news. I think they call him Senor Beer…he’s not for us).
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