It's fair to say that the past 12 months have been challenging and the temptation to open a bottle or two of our favourite tipple has been enticing. Alcohol is sometimes used by people as a means to decompress from the stresses and strains of life. Combine that with the festive celebrations that have just passed, and many are approaching January with a view to making positive health changes in 2021.
Enter Dry January! A more recent cultural development, Dry January sees its participants attempt to help the body recover from festive excess by abstaining from alcohol throughout January. There are numerous reasons one might choose to take part, but health and wellbeing is the most common.
The benefits of Dry January are evident when looking at the importance of the gut microbiome; this unique collection of trillions of bacteria supports the body’s numerous functions and key areas of physical and mental health. ‘Good’ bacteria in the gut are associated with positive health outcomes, whereas ‘bad’ bacteria are not.
Excessive or prolonged intake of alcohol directly impacts the composition of the gut microbiome, causing a significant imbalance in gut bacteria. It increases the levels of bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, diminishing beneficial bacteria levels. This can cause the gut to become inflamed and enable harmful toxins to enter the bloodstream.
Following the festive break, many now choose to part take in Dry January, but what effect can a month of no alcohol have on the gut?
The Dry January Effect
Over seven years, Dry January has gained awareness and traction among the general public. In January 2020, over 100,000 people signed up for the challenge. The month-long lifestyle change educates people on the effect that alcohol has on the body and how changing their relationship with alcohol can positively impact their health, well-being, and wallet!
However, as the stresses and strains imposed throughout 2020 continue to be evident in 2021, it's important to continue the learnings from Dry January into the coming months to promote a healthy gut microbiome.
The Gut and Alcohol
The gut microbiome is influenced by all nutrients that the body takes on board, and this includes alcohol. In fact, the gut bacteria are able to metabolise alcohol, which is why the body can tolerate intake.
Following Dry January, many of us may be tempted to slip back into old habits and uncork a bottle of wine as soon as possible, but before pouring a glass at the start of February, many may wish to reconsider their alcohol intake. Alcohol has a negative impact on how the gut effectively absorbs critical nutrients maintaining the gut barrier function.
After consuming alcohol, it takes between 30 minutes to 2 hours to be absorbed into the bloodstream. 20% is absorbed in the stomach and 80% through the small intestine - an important fact to remember when trying to maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
Once alcohol enters the body, it begins to irritate the digestive system. Even one glass of an alcoholic beverage can make the stomach produce more acid than usual, which can lead to digestive complaints, such as gastritis.
An important, but often overlooked, element is that alcohol tends to make us more likely to snack, whether we’re hungry or not. Late at night, these snacks tend to be more processed and immediately accessible foods that aren’t particularly nourishing for the good gut bacteria.
For those who are looking to reintroduce alcohol into their lives from February, it's important to take note and remind oneself of the guidelines set out by the NHS. For regular alcoholic consumption, the NHS recommends people to not drink more than 14 units per week. Note that a bottle and a half of wine or five pints of export-type lager (5% abv) is equivalent to 14 units. For further advice and guidance from the NHS, visit the website.
Caring for the Gut When Drinking
Although people may choose to keep alcohol as part of their lives, there are various ways in which they can enjoy a boozy drink and still support the gut microbiome:
- If you are planning on drinking, make sure to eat a balanced and healthy meal beforehand
-Make sure your good gut bacteria are well supported. A fibre-rich diet can be a great starting point
- Keep in mind guidance set out by the NHS and drink in moderation
- Be conscious of congeners! These are minor compounds found in alcoholic beverages that can contribute to a hangover. Congeners tend to be found in larger quantities in alcohols such as red wine, brandy and rum. Some alcoholic drinks have naturally lower congener content, such as light beers, white wine, gin and vodka.
For more information about finding the best ways to support your gut microbiome, visit the Bimuno blog.
- Reduced gut microbiome protects from alcohol-induced neuroinflammation and alters intestinal and brain inflammasome expression
- The Dry January story | Alcohol Change UK
- How long does it take alcohol to be absorbed into the bloodstream? (driverseducationusa.com)
- New alcohol advice issued - NHS (www.nhs.uk)
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