Whether you just want to relax with a brew or you’re in the mood for some bubbly, alcohol is a staple of social occasions both casual and upscale. For those who choose to consume it, questions abide about the health benefits (and consequences) of enjoying the occasional libation. For those with sensitive stomachs, the question is even more important. So sit back and relax–today, we’re talking about alcohol and gut health. 

The Alcohol and Gut Bacteria, They Are A-Changin’

You’ve probably heard people laud the health benefits of wine–many oft-cited studies have suggested that red wine, in particular, contributes to good health and even longevity. Studies performed over 20 years ago established a correlation between the drink and the positive results; however, more recent studies have pointed to the fact that while red wine is loaded with antioxidants, it’s the lifestyle habits of regular, moderate (key word!) consumers of red wine that are more likely responsible for their health and longevity

But let’s get specific: according to Healthline, moderate red wine consumption has been shown to somewhat improve helpful gut bacteria populations due to the fact that it contains polyphenols, a type of plant compound that gets broken down (or “eaten”) by gut bacteria. This doesn’t mean you should reach for wine as a way to improve your gut health: the key word, again, is moderation and making informed choices when you do choose to drink. When choosing wines, opt for a dry red, and steer clear of white, sweet and dessert wines, which contain more sugar and fewer additional health benefits such as antioxidants.

Clean As A Whistle (Is What You Don’t Want Your Gut to Be)

We’re all familiar with what alcohol does to bacteria; just check the label on your hand sanitizer for proof. It’s not much different with alcohol and gut health. If you’re feeling like cocktails, here are a few points to consider if you want to put your gut first on a night out.

If you generally avoid sugar-packed fruit drinks and pop, which can wreak havoc on your gut and digestive system, it’s a good idea to also avoid sugary mixers in cocktails. Sparkling water, lemon and lime tend to be better additives to flavor your drinks without as many negative side effects. Then comes the booze itself. It’s tempting to look for the positive sides of distilled hard liquor; after all, certain studies have suggested that clear liquors, such as vodka and gin, are better for hangovers (or at least less bad) than their dark counterparts such as rum and whiskey–there’s also the fact that gin, vodka and whiskey are known to be low-FODMAP.

That being said, if you’re concerned about your gut health, it’s a good idea to steer clear of hard liquor as much as possible. Alcohol in general has a negative effect on beneficial gut bacteria, and generally, the more of it your drink contains, the worse time your gut bacteria are going to have. If you do choose to partake, a good rule of thumb is to never drink on an empty stomach, and have at least one glass of water between alcoholic drinks.

What About Beer?

The story of alcohol and gut health dates back a lot further than our current understanding of our digestive systems and the millions of microbiota which keep it operational–in fact, it dates back over 10 000 years, to the invention of beer. So what about drinking beer in the comfort of our modern world? The good news is that beer is low-FODMAP, making it an option for people following a low-FODMAP diet to consider. Gluten-free beer may be a better option for people prone to bloating and gas, as regular beer is very heavy in gluten and carbohydrates.

Just how high in carbs is beer? While for a long time scientists believed that the invention of bread was what pushed humans to develop agriculture, recent archeological evidence actually points to–you guessed it–beer. Beer was a by-product of wheat which could be fermented from the grain, and as a fermented food, it was both safe to drink and nutritionally rich. That’s food for thought next time you’re enjoying a cold one!

Alcohol and Gut Health is Personal!

Even for people with highly sensitive digestive systems or conditions such as IBS, the effects of alcohol can be highly personal. As with the potentially beneficial polyphenols in red wine, factors other than strict  alcohol content can come into play when it comes to the effect of drinking: beer, for example, contains gluten, and certain hard liquors or sweetened cocktails have a particularly high FODMAP content. As with many foods, the best thing to do is make informed decisions, observe your body’s reactions, and swap out problematic drinks that make you feel bad, for ones that don’t. Remember, always enjoy in moderation, and practice safe drinking habits. Here’s to your health!

You can find more gut health resources on our blog, and check out our recipes sections for great eats and even low FODMAP cocktails you can whip up yourself this summer. From all of us at Fody, enjoy!

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