I'm A Functional Sobriety Expert: How Alcohol Can Sabotage Your Gut Health
Have you been trying to balance and heal your gut for what seems like forever? Maybe you've tried probiotics, detoxes, fiber, and every other supplement on the shelf but still can't seem to get your gut under control.
Have you ever considered taking a look at your alcohol intake?
Most people who drink alcohol can think of a time when it caused digestive discomfort. Perhaps you've had irregular bowel habits after a night out or noticed bloating after drinking certain types of booze. And alcohol affects much more than just digestion. Ever since I adopted a sober lifestyle in June of 2021, I have been using my expertise in nutrition and functional medicine to educate others on the impacts of alcohol on their health. After using my background in nutrition to help repair my own health issues and reduce cravings from alcohol, I coined my sober nutrition approach as "Functional Sobriety."
Here is a look at how alcohol can impact your gut health—and therefore your mood, mental health, hormone balance, energy levels, and so much more:
It throws off the balance of gut microbes.
While taking a high-quality probiotic can support a better balance of microbes in the gut, alcohol is likely sabotaging these efforts. This is true if you consume alcohol just a few times per week but more likely with more regular or heavy intake. In fact, certain unhealthy microbes also feed off of alcohol1, making cravings more irresistible to those of us who regularly imbibe.
It can contribute to leaky gut.
Alcohol is also heavily linked to intestinal permeability, or "leaky gut," as it directly destroys epithelial cells2—our gut lining. This increases toxic byproducts of bacteria and cell damage and increases inflammation in the gut1. Intestinal permeability is also the mechanism linked to autoimmune disease development, food sensitivity development, and other immune concerns3.
It can throw off your immune system.
Because a large portion of our body's immune cells are created in the gut, an imbalance in the gut microbiome can make you more likely to have a weakened immune response4. In addition, the integrity of the intestinal lining also supports a functioning immune system and is broken down with regular and chronic alcohol use.
It can affect your mood.
The gut microbiome plays a critical role in supporting mood through the release of neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine) and supports the communication of the gut-brain axis. An unhealthy balance of bacteria in the gut due to alcohol use may contribute to worsening symptoms of mood disorders, depression, and anxiety5.
How much alcohol does it take to have an impact?
It doesn't take much. Even just a few drinks per week or a single alcohol binge (more than four to five drinks in one sitting) may be holding you back from a healthy gut6. This is because alcohol's toxic nature and the byproducts it creates through metabolism affect our normal gut bacteria and the health of our gut lining. And unfortunately, the more we drink, the worse the effects.
That's why I work with clients to help them develop customized functional sobriety plans to change their drinking habits in my online course, the Alcohol-Free Nutrition Academy. We make simple adjustments to their nutrition and lifestyle to help reduce alcohol cravings and heal the gut from alcohol damage. Here are a few quick ideas to improve your gut health after cutting back on alcohol intake:
- Increase your fiber intake: Adding more fiber to your diet is one of the best ways to improve your gut microbiome. Incorporate a variety of sources from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Also, be mindful of adding prebiotic fiber too, found in apples, oats, asparagus, artichokes, banana, and sunchokes.
- Take probiotics: Adding a high-quality probiotic can help assist in rebuilding a healthy gut microbiome and recovering the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut. However, if you notice that a probiotic causes worsening effects, you may benefit from making more modifications to your diet to eliminate foods irritating the gut (like dairy, grains, gluten, and corn).
- Replenish important nutrients: Because alcohol use depletes many of our body's key nutrients (like B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, magnesium, and more), it's important to replenish these nutrients so you can begin feeling your best. Nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, omega-3s, and others are especially helpful to help rebuild the gut lining and repair leaky gut.
While alcohol can help you reduce stress at the end of a long day or celebrate when you're out with friends, keep in mind that the more we consume on a regular basis, the worse we feel. While the initial hangover may subside, alcohol can create trouble for your gut and your body in the long term.
Dr. Brooke Scheller is a doctor of clinical nutrition, a nationally recognized health expert, and the founder of Functional Sobriety, a nutrition-based program for alcohol reduction. After gaining freedom from alcohol in 2021, Dr. Brooke took her experience in sobriety and applied her expertise in nutrition and functional medicine to help others change their relationship with alcohol.
After working with executives, celebrities, and high-powered clients, she recognized a glaring gap in the wellness space: overconsumption of alcohol. Her approach results in improved brain health, mood, energy, focus, gut health, and hormone balance. Learn more about her Alcohol-Free Nutrition Academy at brookescheller.com.