After a few weeks of holiday parties and even more holiday cookies, the inevitable happens: we double down on our leafy greens and commit to ditching alcohol through the month of January. And while that’s all well and good, without a real understanding as to why we’re making these behavioral shifts (beyond joining the Dry January fervor), it’s not likely to amount to any lasting, positive change. It’s a truth we now know well about making resolutions in the new year—without setting clear intentions first, we’re likely to get lost along the way. That’s why, when I learned about the connection between alcohol and gut health, I knew it would be a boost to helping my booze-free resolutions stick.
Among all the buzzy wellness words, there’s perhaps nothing that’s caught the health-inclined conscious more than gut health. It affects everything from our skin to immunity to our digestion. And while what you eat, the supplements you take, and your ability to manage stress can impact your gut health, more and more, we’re learning that our drinking habits play a key role as well.
Featured image by Christie Graham.
Alcohol and Gut Health: The Surprising Connection
To better understand the connection between alcohol and gut health, I got in touch with Daina Trout, MS MPH. Daina is the Chief Mission Officer and co-founder of Health-Ade Kombucha (a favorite among all of us here at Camille Styles). She’s spoken and written extensively about alcohol and its impact on your gut. Ahead, learn how much alcohol is okay to drink, the toll alcohol can take on your immunity, and strategies for counteracting alcohol consumption to keep your gut healthy.
Daina Trout, MS MPH is the Chief Mission Officer and co-founder of Health-Ade Kombucha. She received her Bachelor of Science from Georgetown University and went on to earn her Master’s degrees in Nutrition and Public Health from Tufts University. In 2019, Daina was included on Inc’s Female Founder 100 list and was also named BevNet’s Person Of The Year. In 2020, Daina was highlighted on Entrepreneur’s 100
Powerful Women list, and was a featured guest on NPR’s How I Built This.
Is there any amount of drinking that’s okay?
Studies show that after just two to three days in a row of more than two drinks, on average, a meaningful negative change in the gut takes place. There is a significant increase in pathogenic bacteria and bacteria that produce inflammation and a significant decrease in bacteria that fight infection and inflammation. There is also a reduction in overall abundance of microbes, an increase in gut permeability, and an interruption of your circadian proteins.
All these things can cause so many health issues. From increased likelihood of getting sick and digestive issues to messed up sleep and achy joints. It truly wreaks havoc when you cross the line of too much.
While I really do enjoy alcohol, it is the thing probably most unhealthy to our microbiome when we have it in excess.
On the other hand, research has found that when you consume two or less drinks no more than a couple times a week, alcohol isn’t as damaging to a healthy gut. That may be your sweet spot if you’re looking for one! The most important thing here is to listen to your body. All these studies are done on groups of people, so the outcomes are averages and may not be your number.
In general, drinking less will be better for all, but you may be more or less sensitive than the average, so that’s why we always say: follow your gut!
How effective is Dry January in terms of resetting the body?
The long-term benefits of taking a break from alcohol, like Dry January, haven’t been hugely studied. However, most would probably agree it wouldn’t be a bad idea, provided you don’t overcompensate with 10 drinks on February 1. What I find to be more effective long-term is mindful drinking—learning how to have a healthy relationship with alcohol where you can enjoy it but not have too much.
How does alcohol affect and even compromise our immunity?
Alcohol, immunity, and gut health are very connected. It is now understood that immunity is very much driven by our microbiome. We can have bacteria that cause our bodies to be worse at fighting infection and bacteria that can strengthen it. Alcohol, after excess exposure, quickly tips the scale to support a microbiome makeup that is weak at fighting infection. Alcohol also injures our intestinal walls, widening the space so all kinds of toxins can enter our bodies, causing problems where they land. This also compromises our immunity, and not just in the short term.
Similarly, mood tends to dip and many people experience seasonal affective disorder in the winter. How can alcohol consumption make this worse?
One of (if not the) biggest drivers of our mood is our gut. An abundant and healthy microbiome is repeatedly connected to people feeling good about themselves and decreased depression and anxiety. The opposite is true with a microbiome that’s less abundant and pro-inflammatory. Because excess alcohol consumption is bad for the gut, and causes the wrong microbes to flourish, you may not be surprised to hear that a major side effect of too much alcohol is feeling down and experiencing low energy.
How can we counteract alcohol consumption and its effects on the gut?
By exposing your gut to healthy bacteria and tons of prebiotics, and avoiding the things that hurt it, you can improve your gut health. You can boost your microbiome by:
- Feeding your gut a variety of high-fiber foods like fruits and veggies.
- Eating/drinking fermented foods such as kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir on the regular.
- Avoiding things like alcohol, stevia, and fake sugars that compromise it.
You should also be careful to take antibiotics only when necessary. That’s another thing that hurts our microbiome, and it can take a year to recover.
Non-Alcoholic Drinks to Give Your Gut a Break
For more options, consult our list of editor-approved non-alcoholic drinks.
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“To no surprise, one of my favorite alcohol alternatives is kombucha. It’s tasty, tangy, and subtly sweet. I love champagne and think it’s the perfect replacement drink when I’m in the mood for something bubbly, especially if you put it in a flute!” — Daina Trout
I’m in good company calling Proxies one of my favorite non-alcoholic wine alternatives. Bon Appétit, and The Kitchn agree—this is the brand to pick up whether you’re exploring sober curiosity or simply want to enjoy your evening and the next morning’s workout. While the blends don’t taste *exactly* like wine, that’s not really the point. They’re something different—perhaps even better. The flavors are funky and complex, so instead of feeling like you’re missing out, you’ll realize you’re sipping on something even more delicious than Sauvignon blanc.
Sure, this might not be what you’d substitute your go-to glass of orange wine with, but as someone who’s fully committed herself to the colostrum craze, I’m expecting my 2024 to involve a lot of ARMRA. For context, colostrum is touted as the new collagen. It includes all nine essential amino acids, supports digestion with 200+ functional, bioactive nutrients, and protects skin and hair from signs of aging. If you’re truly looking to step up your gut, hair, and skin health this year, ARMRA is your best option.
While it may seem like every celebrity has their own alcohol/alcohol-alternative brand, De Soi is among the few I’ll happily keep at home. First off: the branding? Gorgeous—I’d stock up on these bottles for aesthetic purposes alone. But there’s the flavor, too. Each bottle is crafted with natural botanicals. Everything from yuzu to blackberry to rose and birch creates a distinct, slightly floral sipper. (And the adaptogenic benefits abound.) The blends are as elegant as the bottles themselves. What’s not to love?
Kin has been around since the sober curious movement first started picking up steam. And while the brand has been a mainstay for years, it’s constantly reinventing itself with new and game-changing flavors and products. Case in point: Actual Sunshine. This mimosa alternative is exactly how I want to kick off every Sunday brunch. Each can is infused with adaptogens, nootropics, and vitamins. What’s more, turmeric boosts immunity while collagen works hard to brighten your complexion—just as the entire experience brightens your mood.
Töst was my first experience with zero-proof drinks, and its crave-worthy deliciousness opened my eyes to what the industry could bring. Each bottle offers a dry, effervescent experience that feels just as celebratory as popping champagne. The flavors are unique and the hint of citrus is perfectly subtle. It’s a drink fit for every occasion.