The effect of alcohol on the gut microbiota


A few words about alcohol here.  I’m not saying don’t drink it but if you have any of the following symptoms you might want to consider cutting down or taking a ‘Booze Sabbatical’ while you treat your gut.

If you’re suffering from digestive issues, fatigue, brain fog, recurring fungal infections, skin problems and mood swings, these can be caused by yeast overgrowth. When they reproduce, feed and excrete (not nice, but that is biology for you), yeast cells pump out a type of alcohol (acetaldehyde) and your body struggles to detox as your liver doesn’t have an enzyme in sufficient quantities to detox that particular compound. That’s why you can feel hungover with a yeast infection – even when you haven’t been drinking. You wake up with a headache, a horrible mouth and feeling groggy, but that can all change once you restore your microbiota. This is often reported not just by those suffering from a yeast infection or yeast overgrowth but also by people with dysbiosis.

When you have an imbalance of gut microflora and an overgrowth of yeast, of which there are lots of different types including Candida, alcohol can upset the balance even further. Yeast overgrowth is a common condition especially in autoimmune patients.

If you cannot undertake the Booze Sabbatical, choose instead an organic wine.  Wine is made from crushed grapes, including the skins. Grapes that have been sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals will be an intrinsic part of the juice and thence the wine. Organic wines would not contain such pesticides and are made using traditional methods which don’t use modern chemical boosts to speed up the whole process. This is probably why a lot of people say that they don’t get such fierce hangovers from organic wines, but it’s not an excuse to overindulge!

Red wine has a better reputation health-wise than white wine because of the resveratrol found in red grapes. Reserveratrol is part of a group of compounds called polyphenols and is thought to act like antioxidants, helping to protect you from cancer and heart disease.

Try to stay off the hard spirits as they give the liver a lot of work to do to detox high levels of alcohol and usually come with sweet mixers, or aspartame-sweetened mixers. Both aspartame and sugar can upset your microbiome. A recent article in the New Scientist, has linked artificial sweeteners with dysbiosis of the gut flora to the extent where it may be laying the foundations for glucose intolerance and even type 2 diabetes (see original article here). It is best to spritz organic wine 50:50 with soda water to make it last longer, slow down the delivery to the body and make it a kinder, weaker brew.

Beers should be good quality and organic where possible, to improve the nutrient profile—you might as well get some good quality nutrients in your brew and reduce the chemicals you are imbibing if you cannot go without your favourite tipple. Try not to have more than one drink per day, and it is good health-housekeeping to have several alcohol-free days as normal every week. Try to see drinking alcohol as a weekend treat thing, rather than a daily thing and don’t mistakenly think that you have to have all your alcohol units (UK Department of Health Minister gives each alcoholic drink a units value and limits women to 14 units per week and men to 21 per week), during a weekend binge. This can be quite harsh on your poor liver.

Identical twin television doctors, Xander and Chris Van Tulleken, featured this issue in an episode of BBC2’s factual programme Horizon, with one doctor spreading his alcohol units throughout the week and one having all of them in one binge. It made for hilarious TV as we watched the binge-drinking doctor gradually lose his faculties, but it was bad for the liver of the binge-drinking twin, so good Television but a cautionary tale as the underlying message.

Just bear in mind that you are not drinking alone and your health habits affect your micro-organisms (your microbiome), as well as your macro-organism (you!).

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year from everyone here at Taymount… and to show we’re not too ‘mean spirited’, here’s a wonderful poem we’d like to share with you all. It would appear that in addition to being a well renowned poet, W.H. Auden was also a hearty supporter of his beneficial microbes!

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