How alcohol can damage your gut health

How alcohol can damage your gut health

Alcohol has positive and negative effects on health. For instance, the antioxidants in red wine are known for protecting you from diseases. However, there can be too much of a good thing. Excessive drinking can make you sick and impact your career, relationships and quality of life.  

Alcohol affects many parts of your body, but especially the digestive system, where the liver is in charge of breaking it down. If you're trying to quit drinking or limit your intake, here are five facts to convince you to do it in favor of your gut health.

1. It can cause vomiting

From the moment alcohol hits your tongue and mouth until it flows down the esophagus, little amounts enter the body before reaching the stomach. This implies that even before alcohol makes it to the liver, where it’s digested, it’s already harming cells.

When it finally settles in the gut, it’s absorbed into the bloodstream and raises your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). BAC measures the level of ethanol in the bloodstream. If you binge drink and BAC elevates to 0.08% or higher, you may throw up.

Vomiting is generally good because you remove some alcohol from your system, but it also means you’re drinking more and faster than your liver can detoxify. Throwing up is your body signaling you to stop drinking or else it will overwhelm the liver.

2. It increases your risk of gastritis

Gastritis is quite common among Americans, affecting two out of every 10,000 people. It has several causes, but alcohol use is a prevalent one. Alcohol-induced gastritis inflames and wears down the stomach lining, prompting bloating, stomach pain and nausea. 

Alcohol is a digestive irritant and triggers gastritis in two ways. First, it harms the blood vessels in the stomach and causes them to bleed. Second, it increases the amount of stomach acid and further irritates the lining, resulting in inflammation.  

If you think you have alcohol-induced gastritis, get it treated immediately. If ignored, there’s a possibility it will develop into an ulcer and elevate your risk of stomach cancer. Thankfully, it's reversible by changing your diet and lifestyle. Work with your doctor to devise a suitable treatment plan.

3. It leads to acid reflux

After chewing and swallowing food, it normally moves down the esophagus and passes through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to enter the stomach. The LES is a group of muscles with a function similar to an automatic sensor door. It opens up once it detects food at the entrance and closes after it reaches the stomach to be digested with the help of gastric acid.

Drinking excessive alcohol impairs the LES. Its toxins have a relaxing effect on the muscles, which prevents them from closing entirely after food reaches the stomach. When the contents come back up, the slightly open door allows food to pass through and return to the esophagus along with corrosive gastric acid, triggering acid reflux. Since the esophagus has a more sensitive lining than the stomach, you'll feel a burning sensation and indigestion.

4. It makes you bloated

You're bloated if you feel full after a few glasses of beer. Alcoholic beverages contain about seven calories per gram and are rich in sugar and carbon dioxide, which fills and stretches your belly. Bloating happens when you drink excessively. You have it if you start to burp, feel your stomach swelling, and get cramps, constipation and diarrhea.

While not an immediate health concern, bloating can last for days or weeks, which is distressing if you work or go to school. Additionally, drinking alcohol frequently produces a beer belly — the stubborn fat around your waist that protrudes over your pants. The solution to bloating is to limit the amount of alcohol. For women, it's one 12-ounce beer with 5% alcohol content.

5. It harms the liver

Your liver takes the biggest hit when digesting alcohol, as a few liver cells die in the process. However, it's a resilient organ with an impressive ability to heal itself. While this ability sounds fantastic, the liver's restorative skills deteriorate if you keep drinking and don’t give it ample time to reset.

The time needed by the organ to recover from alcohol can take a few days to several months, depending on how severe the damage is and personal factors. It may take years to regenerate if you've been drinking for a long time and decided to quit.

Quitting or limiting alcohol intake will benefit your health

Special occasions usually include alcoholic beverages. It can make parties and birthdays more fun and help people bond, but limit your intake to a glass or two to minimize the effects of toxic chemicals in the body.

If you have existing conditions that it can exacerbate, the best health decision is to skip it. You can still connect with others, have a good time and enjoy special moments without alcohol.

Written by Mia Barnes

Mia is a freelance writer and researcher with a passion for women’s health and wellness. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the healthy living online publication, Body+Mind Magazine

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