Alcohol can affect many areas of our health and wellbeing, including sleep quality, mood, hormone balance, gut health and the condition of our skin. As it’s ‘Sober for October’ at the moment, I thought I’d explore alcohol, and its link to our health – and gut health in particular – in a bit more detail.
Before I begin, a quick disclaimer. I like a glass of red wine, a pub-garden beer at the end of a dog walk, or a pre-dinner G&T. I also regularly challenge myself to have a month or two (or more) ‘off’. This month is one of those.
Alcohol’s effect on our health
As I mentioned above, alcohol exerts an effect on many areas of health. Many of my female friends complain of disrupted sleep after a few drinks, which they are finding is worsening with age. Others find that a night of drinking can have serious implications for their gut health the following day, causing pain, cramps and diarrhoea. However there are also long-term effects from regular drinking, including weight gain, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, cancer and poor mental health. You can find more details on all of these here.
From a gut health perspective, alcohol can have a number of unwanted side effects. These include:
- increased gut permeability; ‘leaky gut’
- changes in gut bacteria
- increased transit time
- reduced absorption of nutrients
- increased inflammation
- unwanted symptoms such as pain, cramps, diarrhoea
Just one episode of excess alcohol consumption has been shown to increase the permeability of the gut, allowing toxins to cross into the bloodstream.
Ways to cut down
And yet, many people find that having a drink in the evening can help them relax. How can we marry the two?
NHS England recommend having a glass of water for each alcoholic drink; taking several alcohol-free evenings each week; opting for smaller serving sizes; and choosing lower-alcohol versions where possible. Having a month off every now and again – Sober for October or Dry January – can also help the body reset and recharge.
Finally, I once listened to a podcast which advised that we ‘change the drink, not the link’. Enjoy the plethora of alcohol-free alternatives that are now available. Make them look pretty. Serve them in your favourite glass. But you may just sleep better, have improved digestion, and enjoy a clear head the next morning. Cheers!
If you fancy some tasty mocktails, have a look at these recipes from last year.