Time for a gut-check

It's officially the festive season. Let's talk alcohol, the effect it has on you gut, probiotics and what to do about it!

We are well and truly into the festive season with Christmas gatherings and work functions in full swing. These parties usually go hand in hand with the consumption of celebratory alcoholic beverages, but I bet you didn’t think about your gut health whilst you were sipping on that glass of prosecco, or beer... not until the morning after, at least. 

Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria, and having a healthy gut as you probably already know, is vital for maintaining your overall health (we've drilled this one a few times). Bacterial homeostasis occurs when there is a balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut. Dysbiosis occurs when there is an imbalance of bacteria. Alcohol consumption is just one lifestyle factor that can have negative repercussions on gut health and increased consumption can actually harm your gut bacteria and lead to dysbiosis. 

Alcohol metabolism and the gut: 

Alcohol is mainly absorbed in the stomach and small intestine, before entering the liver where it is further metabolised via hepatocyte cells. There are two pathways for alcohol metabolism – the process of breaking down alcohol in the body. 

  • The most common pathway involves these two enzymes: alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). The body uses these two enzymes to break apart the alcohol molecule so it can be eliminated from the body; as alcohol is a toxin the body does not like and cannot store. Firstly ADH breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde (which is a known toxic carcinogen). Next, the acetaldehyde is further broken down into acetate then finally broken down into water and carbon dioxide that the body can easily get rid of. 
  • The second pathway for alcohol metabolism is the MEOS pathway (microsomal ethanol-oxidising system). This pathway is mainly used when the body needs to process large quantities of alcohol. MEOS leads to the production of free radicals in the body, which can lead to cell damage through oxidative stress. 

What do these processes have to do with gut health? 

Although most alcohol metabolism occurs in the liver, some amounts of alcohol may be metabolised into acetaldehyde in the gastrointestinal tract, exposing these tissues to highly damaging effects. The enzymes involved in the oxidative metabolism of alcohol (MEOS) are present in the intestinal mucosa and can also lead to acetaldehyde production in the GI tract.

Alcohol can damage epithelial cells (in the barrier of the intestines) by weakening cell membranes, causing intestinal permeability. The epithelial layer of the gut can become ‘leaky’, allowing pathogens such as bacteria and other substances to enter the blood stream, causing symptoms of gastrointestinal discomfort. 

The gut is where most nutrients are absorbed so a disruption can inhibit absorption of nutrients such as fat-soluble and water soluble vitamins. 

Alcohol and IBS: 

Some types of alcohol can worsen IBS symptoms and lead to bloating, gassiness, pain and increased frequency. Even when you don’t have IBS, alcohol consumption can bring on these symptoms. Sweet alcoholic beverages like ciders, sweet wines and pre-mixed drinks may upset the gut more than others because of their increased FODMAP content. 

Alcohol and negative gut health effects are dose dependant. With that in mind, I wouldn’t recommend going over the top with your drink consumption (though it is easy to do so especially in the Christmas period!). Try to have no more than one-two standard drinks each day (30ml spirits, 100ml wine, 285ml full strength beer), or simply go without. 

Some great swaps could be a mocktail, soda, kombucha or of course grab a PERKii, which has proven benefits for our gut health. Red wine also has proven gut health benefits, particularly due to its high concentration of polyphenols, but remember, everything in moderation. 

Make sure you consume a fist full of food before drinking, as drinking on an empty stomach can upset your digestive system. If you do happen to have a big night out and maybe consume a little too much, it’s important to build up that gut diversity once again and increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut. Include plenty of pre and probiotics in your diet and increase your consumption of plant based fibre and you are well on your way to having a happy gut this Christmas! 

Written by Amelia Belich (BNutSci, MDiet - student) 

Follow Ameila here - @thenutritionmovement__ 

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 reviews38(2), 163–171.

https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-guidelines-reduce-health-risks-drinking-alcohol

https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa72/aa72.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26695747

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