Alcohol can be a tricky topic for a lot of people. For many of us, a few drinks can be an excellent way to wind down after a long day or week. But, for others, alcohol can significantly affect our health, family, and social life.
During Betr’s Level 1 protocol, we recommend you avoid drinking. This is part of our goal of reducing sources of inflammation during the Healing portion of the Betr program.
The fact is that alcohol can cause unhealthy, inflammatory changes to the community of bacteria in your intestinal tract, your gut microbiome. These changes are bad for your overall health.
In the following article, we’ll explore how:
- Alcohol can cause an unhealthy shift in your gut microbiome
- Regular, heavy alcohol interferes with our intestines
- Microbiome changes may fuel addiction through the gut-brain axis
- Alcohol-related changes in the gut may contribute to severe disease
- Heavy drinking can indirectly affect your overall health
Finally, we’ll give a little more detailed insight into Betr’s approach to booze!
Alcohol causes unhealthy shifts in your gut microbiome.
Your gut microbiome is a delicate ecosystem. “Good” microorganisms, which provide health benefits, constantly battle for a healthy balance with “bad” microorganisms, which can cause inflammation and disease.
Research into alcohol changes to the gut microbiome shows that regular, heavy alcohol consumption leads to shifts in the balance between good and bad bacteria. Unfortunately, these shifts are in the wrong direction and lead to an increase in species of bacteria more likely to contribute to disease.
It’s not just changes in the bacteria in your gut that can be harmful, though. Did you know that there’s fungus in your gut too? Like your microbiome, our gut also contains a mycobiome, a population of fungi that naturally live in our gut.
One of these fungal species is Candida, and it’s related to the fungus that contributes to yeast infections. One of the problems with alcohol-induced dysbiosis is that it can lead to higher levels of Candida and other unhealthy fungal species.
The shifts in the gut microbiome aren’t just about good vs. bad bacteria causing disease. The other issue is that unhealthy changes in our microbiome can directly interfere with the function of our digestive system!
Chronic, heavy drinking causes shifts in the species of fungus and bacteria in our gut microbiome. These microbiome changes can lead to inflammation, disease, and intestinal dysfunction.
Alcohol use is unhealthy for our intestines.
The walls of our intestines aren’t just for show! Our intestinal membrane constantly lets the good stuff out of our intestines and keeps the bad things in, and vice versa. But, when our gut microbiome is in a state of dysbiosis, and there’s inflammation of the intestinal membrane, it interferes with this vital task.
This situation is called “increased intestinal permeability” or “Leaky Gut Syndrome.” We discuss it in greater detail in Leaky Gut: Quack or Fact, but the long and the short of it is that inflammatory substances get into places they shouldn’t!
It starts with the shift in our microbiome toward more unhealthy species. Whereas healthy bacteria produce substances that fight inflammation, harmful species have inflammatory substances. So as alcohol shifts the population of our microbiome to unhealthier species. This shift increases inflammation, which disrupts the normal function of our intestinal membrane, causing increased permeability.
There’s another way that alcohol interferes with intestinal function, especially when we overserve ourselves. Our body breaks down alcohol through two pathways. The standard, healthy path is in our liver. When we only have a drink or two, the liver can chew that alcohol up and spit it out with minimal waste.
But, when we drink a lot, our body uses other tools to break down the alcohol. The problem is that this second pathway, known as the microsomal ethanol-oxidizing system (MEOS), produces free radical oxygen molecules.
You can get a more detailed breakdown in The Betr Guide to Antioxidants, but the issue with free radicals is that they bond with healthy cells and cause damage. When we drink heavily, the MEOS pathway generates increased free radicals in our gut, damaging bacterial and intestinal cells. This damage leads to inflammation and dysfunction.
Heavy drinking can cause unhealthy, increased intestinal permeability through changes to the microbiome and the production of damaging free radicals from alcohol breakdown pathways.
Regular Alcohol Use Affects the Gut-Brain Axis and May Fuel Alcohol Addiction
There are many essential relationships between our gut microbiome and other organs and systems in our body. One that’s incredibly important to our feelings of well-being and mental health is the Gut-Brain Axis.
Betr touches on this relationship in Gut-Health and Anxiety: The Truth Behind “Gut Feelings.” A healthy gut microbiome produces hormones essential for mental clarity and emotional well-being. 90% of serotonin, our “happy hormone,” is made in our gut!
However, when alcohol disrupts our gut microbiome, this process can break down. One problem is the increase in intestinal permeability. When this occurs, inflammatory substances from the gut travel to the brain and cause inflammation and interference with normal function.
In addition to increased inflammation, an unhealthy microbiome doesn’t contain enough bacteria to produce healthy precursors to mood-supporting hormones. If we don’t have enough “happy” hormones, it can lead to anxiety and other mental health disruption. These disorders are strongly associated with unhealthy drinking behaviors.
To test the theory that gut bacteria are related to alcohol use disorders, researchers transplanted the microbiomes of alcoholic humans into mice. They found after transplantation that the mice exhibited similar behaviors to alcohol use disorder patients, including antisocial behavior, anxiety, and depression.
Finally, scientists compared the intestinal permeability of alcoholic patients who stopped drinking. These studies show that patients with more intestinal permeability showed more severe signs of withdrawal, anxiety, depression, and craving when trying to stop drinking.
Evidence supports the theory that changes to intestinal permeability and the gut microbiome may interfere with the healthy functioning of the Gut-Brain Axis, which could be related to alcoholism.
Alcohol-Related Inflammation may Contribute to the Development of Serious Diseases.
While heavy drinking and its associated lifestyle factors can “chip away” at good health (more on this in the next section), there are certain diseases that alcohol-related inflammation may cause or worsen.
We already talked about the liver and its role in alcohol breakdown, but the liver and the gut work together in other ways, too. In fact, a known “Gut-Liver Axis” plays a significant role in our health.
If you know anything about alcohol, you know that chronic, heavy drinking is associated with liver damage. But, doctors and researchers are still investigating a theory that inflammation in the gut may contribute to liver inflammation and severe liver damage.
It’s a complicated topic and an area for more research. Still, there’s not much debate that heavy drinking isn’t good for your liver, and liver disease is serious and life-threatening.
There’s such a significant association between heavy drinking and intestinal cancers that, for many years, alcohol itself was considered a direct carcinogen. More recently, though, scientists theorize that it’s not the alcohol but the intestinal inflammation caused by heavy alcohol that leads to these cancers.
Finally, while it needs further investigation, there’s a good chance that alcohol-related inflammation can play a part in inflammatory bowel diseases, like chrons disease. The connection is intestinal permeability. Alcohol is known to cause increased “leaky gut,” which plays a prominent role in gut diseases.
Betr takes a deeper dive into the relationship between intestinal permeability and digestive dysfunction in Syndrome or Symptom: How the Gut Microbiome Impacts IBS.
The increased intestinal permeability and inflammation caused by heavy drinking can directly contribute to serious diseases like liver disease, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Indirect Health Effects of Gut Health
We know what alcohol does to your gut and how alcohol and gut health can contribute directly to health issues. There are other indirect ways alcohol can interfere with healthy living!
First, the importance of your gut microbiome to other areas of health means that anything disrupting your gut health could cause other problems. For example, there’s plenty of evidence that poor gut health can negatively impact your blood pressure and blood sugar regulation and cause increased stress.
In addition to this, alcohol is pretty low on the list of “healthy nutrients.” It’s primarily a simple carbohydrate, which can derail your insulin response and lead to ongoing problems with cravings, appetite regulation, fat storage, and blood sugar processing.
Finally, there are lots of other lifestyle factors that seem to be associated with heavy alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol can disrupt sleep, interfering with gut health and overall health. And we don’t have to tell you that it’s harder to say “no” to that 2 am slice of pizza when you’re out on the town, right?
These indirect health effects add up to a significant impact from alcohol use!
Alcohol and its impact on gut health can have more indirect effects on our overall health, like increased blood pressure, poor sleep, blood sugar regulation issues, stress, and more!
Betr on Booze
Here’s where Betr lands on this entire issue. Do we think a glass of wine or an after-work beer is “bad” for you? No! Alcohol can be an enjoyable part of a healthy social life.
But, during our Level 1 protocol, we recommend abstaining from alcohol. As we’ve seen through this discussion: alcohol, especially a lot of it, can disrupt your gut microbiome, leading to increased intestinal permeability and chronic inflammation.
The entire purpose of the Level 1 protocol is to remove as many sources of inflammation as possible. This way, your gut microbiome can heal and help you to reduce chronic inflammation that can contribute to everything from diabetes to stress to poor sleep.
You won’t feel deprived either! We’ve seen many of our members naturally decrease the amount they drink. That’s because the delicious, healing foods of the Betr protocol reduce the stress and cravings that can encourage some over-indulgence!
Betr also teaches you to listen to your body! During Level 2 and into the Level 3 Maintenance portion of Betr, you’ll learn the right balance of alcohol for you!
Betr isn’t about punishment or deprivation. It’s about treating your body and mind well! If a drink here and there is a part of that for you, we say cheers!
So, to recap:
- Chronic, heavy drinking causes shifts in the species of fungus and bacteria in our gut microbiome. These microbiome changes can lead to inflammation, disease, and intestinal dysfunction.
- Heavy drinking can cause unhealthy, increased intestinal permeability through changes to the microbiome and the production of damaging free radicals from alcohol breakdown pathways.
- Evidence supports the theory that changes to intestinal permeability and the gut microbiome may interfere with the healthy functioning of the Gut-Brain Axis, which could be related to alcoholism.
- The increased intestinal permeability and inflammation caused by heavy drinking can directly contribute to serious diseases like liver disease, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Alcohol and its impact on gut health can have more indirect effects on our overall health, like increased blood pressure, poor sleep, blood sugar regulation issues, stress, and more!
As with all things, “Betr, not perfect!” One night on the town is not going to damage your health irreparably. But, Betr wants you to have as much information as possible to make the best decisions for your body and health!
Explore Betr's risk-free trial to see if you could benefit from using food as medicine to rebuild your microbiome and realize the healthy potential you never knew you were missing!