Alcohol Awareness Week 2017
Oh, alcohol! An accompaniment for dinner, a meet up with friends or perhaps just to unwind at home. However, when consumed in considerable amounts, heavy drinking can lead to an array of health issues. To take one example, the gut microbiota exists to supply relevant bacteria to support immunity, mental health and aid digestion; dysbiosis – an imbalance in the gut microbiome – is one of the lesser known conditions caused by excess alcohol intake (Group, E. 2016).
In England, 7% of adults drink over the Medical Officer’s low-risk guidelines; due to this, 8,758 alcohol-related deaths in the UK occurred in 2015, with higher mortality rates within the 55-64 age group. Furthermore, alcohol mistreatment has become an increased risk factor for disability and ill-health within the age groups of 15-49 (UK statistics). Steps can be taken to continue to enjoy alcohol in moderation and with a safer outcome. Reducing the volume and mixing with other beverages, e.g. soda water, alongside drinking a glass of water after every alcoholic drink, can minimise the overall impact. Also, drinking whilst eating a meal will slow down the absorption of the alcohol.
The gut and alcohol
In relation to the gut, alcohol does not have a direct effect on the microbiome as 75-80% is absorbed in the small intestine, therefore not reaching the colon. Alcohol impairs the ability of the small intestine to process minerals and nutrients, although very few studies exist to investigate a relationship between alcohol consumption and bacterial growth in the small intestine (Purohit, et al. 2016). However, alcohol that contains a concentration greater than 30% can cause irritation to the mucous lining of the gastrointestinal tract and potentially cause mild-severe inflammation, thus not proving a suitable environment for your new, implanted microbiome.
Although not directly affecting the microbiome, chronic drinking causes alteration to the gut flora, potentially leading to “leaky gut syndrome”, resulting in the potential aetiology of inflammatory conditions. Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, sweating and loss of appetite are common effects of excessive or chronic alcohol intake. A recent study completed on mice has detailed that alcohol administration actually downregulated the genes that produce antimicrobial molecules, so that fewer antimicrobials were produced to protect against diseases (Schnabl, 2016). When researchers conducted colonoscopies on humans, heavy drinkers were found to have a greater amount of bacteria in their intestinal mucosa, suggesting that the alcohol was inhibiting the release of protective peptides, and therefore effectively diminishing intestinal defense strategy.
So although the alcohol does not actually reach the large intestine in great amounts, the effects of excess or chronic intake, even indirectly, are highly deleterious. The initial dysbiosis caused can contribute to a cascade of other problems which can result in inflammatory and degenerative conditions in the colon.
FMT Nutritional Therapist,
Nutritionist ANutr BSc Hons
Group, E. (2016) ‘How Alcohol Affects the Gut Microbiome’, https://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/how-alcohol-affects-the-gut-microbiome/.
Purohit, et al. (2016) ‘Alcohol, Intestinal Bacterial Growth, Intestinal Permeability to Endotoxin, and Medical Consequences’, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2614138/
Schnabl, B. (2016) ‘Drinking Causes Gut Microbe Imbalance Linked to Liver Disease’, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/drinking-causes-gut-microbe-imbalance-linked-to-liver-disease/