Alcohol and Digestive Diseases: What's the Link?

How does alcohol affect digestive diseases? We'll take a detailed look in this article.
Alcohol and Digestive Diseases: What's the Link?
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 23 January, 2023

Alcohol is a toxic substance that can negatively affect the management of digestive diseases. It will also increase the risk of suffering from them and of developing other types of complex pathologies that can greatly reduce well-being. In fact, there’s no safe amount, and the best thing to do is to completely eliminate it from your daily life. We’ll look at the link between alcohol and digestive diseases in this article.

There are many myths surrounding alcohol consumption. It has been speculated that drinking a glass of wine a day is good for the heart. However, there are no well-designed case-control trials to support this theory. On the contrary, it is based on observational studies that you can’t draw any conclusions from.

Alcohol and digestive diseases

First of all, we must realize the influence of alcohol consumption on the body. It’s neurotoxic, and so it will increase the probability of suffering neurodegenerative pathologies. An example could be Alzheimer’s. This is indicated by a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. In fact, the damage will be cumulative, so it’s recommended to avoid regular intake.

It should also be mentioned that alcohol causes alterations in the cardiovascular system, despite the existing myths about it. On the one hand, it affects the lipid profile. On the other hand, it will increase the level of internal inflammation. This mechanism is associated with atherosclerosis when levels are high. In this sense, it’s always best to maintain a balance.

As if this weren’t enough, alcohol contains a high amount of empty calories. These are calories that don’t provide nutrients to participate in the different metabolic processes. The result of this in the medium term is a progressive accumulation of subcutaneous fatty tissue, which will negatively affect the state of health.

The hormonal system is also affected by this substance. The production of male sex hormones such as testosterone is reduced. This is confirmed by research published in the journal Alcohol Health and Research World . Leydig cell function can be negatively affected, causing failures in reproduction and muscle health.

Alcohol and the microbiota

We know that the bacteria that inhabit the intestine, called intestinal microbiota, have a significant implication in health. For this reason, it’s necessary to ensure that they remain competent, with good density and diversity.

However, alcohol consumption could cause a loss of different strains of microorganisms over the years, increasing the risk of dysbiosis.

When the bacterial profile is changed, pathologies or associated symptoms will be more likely. The microorganisms that live in the digestive tract have many different functions. On the one hand they help to digest and metabolize nutrients. On the other, they’re responsible for maintaining a balance at the inflammatory level from the production of short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate.

It’s speculated that dysbiosis processes could be a risk factor for the development of diseases that affect the digestive tract, as stated in a study published in the Clinical Journal of Gastroenterology.

For this reason, you should avoid all habits and routines that may have a negative impact on the levels of diversity and density. Alcohol consumption is one of them, but there are more. We can also highlight an insufficient intake of fiber.

In the same way, you should promote the inclusion of fermented foods in the diet. These are a source of probiotics, live microorganisms with the capacity to selectively colonize the digestive tract, generating benefits for the host. Thanks to them, the incidence of problems that affect the intestine could be reduced. They will even be less likely to end up developing nutrient intolerances.

Alcohol in digestive pathology

Alcohol and digestive diseases is a bad combination.
Many gastrointestinal conditions are likely to be worsened by alcohol consumption, regardless of the dose. This is the case with gastritis.

There are several digestive pathologies where alcohol could cause a direct increase in symptoms. An example would be reflux or gastritis. In these cases, you should avoid any type of irritating substance that affects the digestive pH. If you don’t do this, it would be more difficult to manage the problem efficiently, and this will affect the patient’s quality of life.

According to the magazine Roczniki Panstwowego Zakladu Higieny, it’s important to adapt dietary and lifestyle habits to achieve a remission of the disease or to avoid it affecting us too much. Normally, an increase in the consumption of foods of plant origin is the best option, in addition to avoiding drinks and foods such as coffee, chocolate, and others that can be harmful in specific cases.

When the problem isn’t to do with our stomach, but is intestinal, alcohol consumption will also make the situation worse. As we mentioned, it will affect the microbiota profile. This will result in a lower production of anti-inflammatory compounds such as butyrate. From here the fermentations will be more and more significant and you could experience gas, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

For this reason, it’s best to avoid alcohol completely. This will be a positive move to prevent many diseases and also to improve their treatment once they develop. It must be borne in mind that said alcohol could even interact with different types of drugs, causing serious physiological alterations over the years.

Is there any type of alcoholic drink that is good?

For years there was speculation about the possibility that fruit-based alcoholic beverages could be positive for the body due to their content of antioxidant polyphenols. The truth is that the fermentation process of beverages such as wine causes a reduction in the concentration of these compounds, so their final content will be lower than that of fresh fruit.

The same thing happens if you try to drink juice to take advantage of the antioxidants. A part of them is lost. There may be some, but the addition of simple sugars isn’t going to be worth it in most cases.

With alcohol, the situation is very similar. For this reason, there’s no reason supported by research to include alcohol in your daily life, in any of its forms.

In fact, you even have to be careful when using it for cooking. The alcohol doesn’t always completely evaporate in the preparations. It will depend on the cooking temperature, the type of product used, and whether or not it’s kept uncovered. Even the presence of certain phytochemicals could affect it. For this reason, you should avoid giving recipes made with alcoholic beverages to children.

Interventions to improve the management of digestive diseases

Alcohol in digestive diseases must be regulated.
A healthy diet that includes proper servings of fresh fruits and vegetables is important to counteract the negative effects of alcohol.

In addition to eliminating alcohol from the diet, other strategies can be implemented to improve the management of digestive diseases. One example would be the consumption of fermented foods containing probiotics. We’re referring above all to dairy products such as yogurt or kefir.

Its intake has been linked to a better state of health and a lower risk of developing complex pathologies, as confirmed by a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Another step you should take is to increase fiber consumption. This substance serves as an energy substrate for the bacteria that inhabit the intestine. Thanks to it, they can reproduce and grow.

In addition, the aforementioned short-chain fatty acids are generated from fermentation, which have been shown to help prevent many different diseases. The main diets advise a daily consumption of at least 25 grams (1 oz) of fiber.

Ensuring the presence in the daily diet of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables will be something tremendously positive. They don’t only contain fiber, but also anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that will help maintain internal balance. This ensures good overall health over the years, which slows down the rate of aging.

Even sleeping well could make a difference when we talk about prevention and treatment of digestive diseases. During sleep, the body’s recovery processes take place. The synthesis of important hormones is also ensured, which helps the entire physiology to function properly.

Alcohol makes it difficult to manage digestive diseases

Alcohol makes it very difficult to manage digestive diseases, and is considered a toxic substance regardless of the dose consumed. The best thing is to eliminate it completely to prevent problems with alcohol and digestive diseases. If you do include it, it’s best for it to be part of recipes and for it to undergo a cooking process to evaporate it to a large extent.

Finally, it should be noted that the focus must always be on the intestinal microbiota when proposing strategies to combat intestinal problems. The most recent evidence reveals the importance of the set of bacteria that inhabit the digestive tube for human health. For this reason, the diet and routines will have to be adapted to ensure density and diversity.

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