In a recent Instagram post, Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist and New York Times bestselling author of The Fiber Fueled Cookbook, explains that bacterial endotoxins that cause inflammation begin to rise within half an hour of consuming alcohol. That said, while Dr. Bulsiewicz says that while alcohol isn’t ever good for you, he’ll still have a beer or a glass of wine if out with friends every so often.
We caught up with Sarah Robbins, MD, MSc, FRCPC, a gastroenterologist, gut health expert, and the Founder of Well Sunday, to learn more about the close relationship between alcohol and gut health, and how to restore your gut health after alcohol consumption.
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How to restore gut health after alcohol consumption
Although Dr. Robbins says there isn’t nearly enough research on the topic to fully understand the extent of the impact alcohol has on your gut, what she does know is that alcohol affects gut permeability (bacterial endotoxins translocation from the gut into the bloodstream), gut microbiota (affects the composition microbial diversity), inflammation (leads to elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines), and liver disease (one of the primary organs affected by alcohol-induced changes in gut health), to name a few.
That said, it’s clear that the best way to protect your gut microbiome is by simply abstaining from alcohol (be gone, alcohol-induced diarrhea!). However, if you do find yourself looking for ways to reset the gut after a night out, Dr. Robbins says it’s possible, but it’ll require a bit of work. “This rapid effect, [demonstrated in the research study], is concerning because it suggests that even occasional binge drinking could have significant health implications with the potential to trigger systemic inflammatory responses.”
“This rapid effect, [demonstrated in the research study], is concerning because it suggests that even occasional binge drinking could have significant health implications with the potential to trigger systemic inflammatory responses.”
—Sarah Robbins, MD, MSc, FRCPC
So, how can we get things back on track after downing a few Aperol spritzes? Well, Dr. Robbins points out that “the negative effects of alcohol on the gut are supported by the scientific literature, however the strategies for "resetting" the gut after drinking are less clear-cut and may vary between individuals.” That’s to say, keep in mind what may work for one person may not for another. But on that note, here are eight things you can try, according to Dr. Robbins:
- Rehydrate: Alcohol is a diuretic and can lead to dehydration, which can exacerbate gastrointestinal symptoms. Drinking plenty of water can help rehydrate the body and facilitate the recovery of the gut lining.
- Sneak in some probiotics: Probiotics may help restore gut flora that can be disrupted by alcohol. Foods rich in probiotics include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and fermented foods like kimchi. Probiotic supplements are also available but should be taken under a dietitian or MD's guidance.
- Take prebiotics: Prebiotics are fibers and natural sugars that stimulate the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Foods like asparagus, garlic, and bananas are good sources of prebiotics. High-fiber foods can help regularize bowel movements and have a general positive effect on gut health. Foods rich in soluble fiber can aid in water absorption in the intestines and may help relieve diarrhea or loose stools after heavy drinking.
- Eat high-fiber foods: A diet rich in fiber can help regulate bowel movements and improve gut health. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are excellent sources of dietary fiber.
- Limit sugar and processed foods intake: High sugar intake and processed foods can disrupt the gut microbiome. Reducing these can help in restoring gut health.
- Focus on sleep and stress management: Both sleep and stress can impact gut health. Sleep provides the body time to repair and restore itself, while stress management techniques like meditation can improve gut function.
- Get enough physical exercise: Regular moderate physical exercise has been shown to positively influence gut microbiota composition, which could potentially help in resetting the gut.
- Have a medical consultation: If symptoms persist or if there is a pre-existing condition, consult a healthcare provider for advice tailored to individual health needs.
How long does it take for your gut to recuperate after drinking?
There are a few things to consider when analyzing how long alcohol will impact the microbiome. “The recovery of the gut and the balancing of endotoxin levels following alcohol consumption can vary greatly depending on various factors like the amount of alcohol consumed, frequency or chronicity of drinking, individual physiology, and other coexisting health conditions,” Dr. Robbins says. She also points out that some studies show that women may be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than men.
But, generally speaking, Dr. Robbins says some research suggests that alcohol-induced increases in gut permeability may take days to weeks to normalize, while chronic alcohol use may lead to more persistent changes and long-term effects on the gut. “Alcohol-induced changes in liver function, which are connected to gut health and endotoxin levels, can take weeks to months to return to baseline levels, particularly in the context of chronic drinking,” she says.
So… is drinking less, more for the gut?
Yep. Although, low-to-moderate levels of alcohol consumption can alter the composition of the gut microbiota, the changes may be less dramatic than those seen with heavy drinking, Dr. Robbins says. Keep in mind that any alcohol consumption can interfere with nutrient absorption, including key vitamins and minerals, and can cause an increase in stomach acid production, potentially leading to gastric distress or inflammation. Like most things in life: Moderation is key, fam.
An RD compares wine vs. champagne:
- Bala, Shashi et al. “Acute binge drinking increases serum endotoxin and bacterial DNA levels in healthy individuals.” PloS one vol. 9,5 e96864. 14 May. 2014, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096864
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