Category: Nutrition

Alcohol and Inflammation: Making Healthy Choices

Holiday festivities are often enjoyed with a drink in hand — maybe some wine, a cranberry cocktail or a glass of bubbly.

Drinking alcohol moderately in social situations is a normal part of adult life. But for those with autoimmune diseases, alcohol, even in moderation, can cause inflammation that other social drinkers typically don’t have to deal with.

Giving up alcohol can be difficult, especially if it is part of your normal daily routine or you imbibe for special occasions. Attune Health nutritionist and research associate Natalie Fortune explains the relationship between alcohol and inflammation in patients with autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, and offers some tips on limiting your alcohol intake.

 

Why is alcohol problematic for patients with autoimmune disease?

We have all heard that moderate consumption of alcohol can be healthy. And, in normal circumstances, it can be. But bodies with inflammatory and autoimmune diseases are different. These conditions make the body systems more sensitive and, therefore, face more challenges.

Alcohol has been found to cause intestinal permeability, more commonly known as leaky gut [1]. The tiny holes that alcohol creates in the intestines are large enough for toxins to enter the bloodstream. This causes systemic inflammation, stimulating the immune system and damaging the liver [1].

There are good and bad bacteria in our digestive tracts. It is normal to have some “bad” bacteria in our large intestines. But problems arise when there is too much of it, or if the “bad” bacteria get too high up in the digestive tract.  Alcohol feeds the “bad” bacteria in our digestive tracts, and this can cause bacterial overgrowth. Alcohol is even associated with increased “bad” bacteria growing too high up in our digestive tract, even the stomach [1].

Furthermore, alcohol has been found to be associated with difficulty sleeping, vitamin deficiency, gastritis and other health problems.

 

Can I still cook with alcohol?

Cooking with alcohol like wine and non-grain liquor is okay. When we cook, all the alcohol (ethanol) is burned off. Because ethanol is the problematic component, alcohol is safe to cook with.

Make sure not to cook with beer or other grain-based alcohols as they contain gluten, and gluten can be problematic for patients with autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. Also avoid “cooking wine,” as it is loaded with added salt and other unnecessary ingredients.

 

How can I reduce my alcohol intake? I enjoy my glass of wine in the evening!

If you like to have a beer or a glass of wine after work, it may be more about the act of getting the drink and drinking it, as opposed to the wine itself. Try substituting wine for sparkling water with lemon or lime and put it in a wine glass so it feels more special. You could also try having some kombucha in a wine glass. This can help satisfy the habit of grabbing a glass of wine.

 

Can I still have a drink on special occasions? What kind of alcohol is the healthiest?

Of course, on a special occasion, having a drink to celebrate is normal. Avoid wine if you can, as it contains a lot of sugar. Additionally, some people find that they cannot tolerate wine due to the yeast and sulfites, so assess how your body reacts to it.

Beer and colored liquors like whiskey or bourbon can also be problematic because of gluten and their sugar content.

Clear liquors like vodka or gin may be a better option. Mix them with club soda or sparkling water. Avoid juices, sodas and even tonic water. Make sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, and remember to only have a moderate amount to drink.

 

How much is in a healthy, standard-size drink?

A standard serving size of an alcoholic drink has 14 grams of pure alcohol. Here’s how that translates:

  • Liquor: 1.5 ounces per serving
  • Wine: 5 ounces per serving
  • Gluten-free cider: 12 ounces per serving.  

Moderate consumption for women is one serving of alcohol in a day and, for men, two servings.

And remember — always make sure to consult with your doctor first about drinking alcohol based on your diagnosis and medications.

 

References

  1. Purohit V, Bode JC, Bode C, et al. Alcohol, intestinal bacterial growth, intestinal permeability to endotoxin, and medical consequences: summary of a symposium. Alcohol 2008;42(5):349-61 doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2008.03.131[published Online First: Epub Date]|.