Do you feel dry January? You might be doing your gut health a favor – an expert explains

After a few weeks of holiday parties and cakes galore, the inevitable happens on January 1st: we double our effort to get green vegetables and commit to giving up alcohol until the month is up. And even if that’s all well and good, without a real understanding of it Why we make these behavioral changes (in addition to participating in the Dry January fun), it probably won’t amount to any lasting, positive change. It is a truth we now know well make resolutions in the new year— Without setting clear intentions first, we will probably get lost along the way. That’s why, when I learned about the connection between alcohol and gut health, I knew my decision to step back from the booze would stick.

Among all the buzzwords in wellness, there is perhaps nothing that has captured the health conscious more than gut health. It affects everything from our skin immunity to our digestion. And while what you eat, the supplements you take, and your ability to manage stress in your life can all affect your gut health, increasingly, we’re learning that our drinking habits also play a key role.

Selected image of Christie Graham.

Picture of Christie Graham

Alcohol and gut health: The surprising connection

To get answers to all our questions about the connection between alcohol and gut health, I contacted Daina Trout, MS MPH. Daiana is the Chief Mission Officer and co-founder of Health-Ade Kombucha (a favorite among all of us here at Camille Styles). She has spoken and written a lot about alcohol and its effects on your gut, so I knew she would be the perfect person to clear the air. And today we cover it all.

Keep reading to learn how much alcohol is okay to drink, how alcohol can affect our immunity, and strategies to curb alcohol consumption to keep your gut healthy. Let’s get into it.

Is there anything to drink that’s okay?

Studies show that after just two to three consecutive days of more than two drinks, on average, a meaningful negative change occurs in the gut. There is a significant increase in disease-causing bacteria and bacteria that produce inflammation, and a significant decrease in bacteria that fight infection and inflammation. There is also a reduction in the overall abundance of microbes, an increase in gut permeability and a disruption of your circadian proteins. All these things can cause so many health problems. From increased likelihood of getting sick and digestive problems to messy sleep and sore joints. It really wreaks havoc when you cross the line of too much.

Although I really enjoy alcohol, it is probably the most unhealthy thing for our microbiome when we have it in excess.

On the other hand, research has found that when you consume two or fewer drinks no more than a few times a week, alcohol is not as harmful to a healthy gut. It could be your sweet spot if you’re looking for one! The most important thing here is to listen to your body. All of these studies are done on groups of people, so the results are averages and may not be YOUR numbers. In general, it will be better for everyone to drink less, but you may be more or less sensitive than average, so that’s why we always say: FOLLOW YOUR GUT!

Photo by Michelle Nash

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 studied very well. However, most would probably agree that it wouldn’t be a bad idea, provided you don’t overcompensate with 10 drinks on February 1st. What I think is more effective in the long term is mindful drinking – learning to have a healthy relationship with alcohol where you can enjoy it but not have too much.

Photo by Michelle Nash

Immunity is another top-of-mind concern at this time of year. How does alcohol affect and compromise our immunity?

Alcohol, immunity and gut health are closely related. It is now understood that immunity is largely driven by our microbiome. We can have bacteria that make our bodies less able to fight infection and bacteria that can strengthen it. Alcohol, after excessive exposure, quickly tips the scales to support a microbiome makeup that is weak in fighting infection. Alcohol also damages our intestinal walls and expands the space for all kinds of toxins to enter our bodies, causing problems wherever they land. This also compromises our immunity, and not just in the short term.

Photo by Michelle Nash

Similarly, mood tends to drop and many people experience seasonal affective disorder in the winter. How can alcohol consumption make this worse?

One of (if not THE) biggest driver of our mood is our gut feeling. An abundant and healthy microbiome is repeatedly linked to people feeling good about themselves and reduced depression and anxiety. The opposite is the case with a microbiome that is 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 learn that a major side effect of too much alcohol is exhaustion and low energy.

Picture of Blue-green Thomsen

Are there ways we can 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:

  1. Feed your gut with a variety of fiber-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.
  2. Eat/drink fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir regularly.
  3. Avoid things like alcohol, stevia and fake sugars that seriously compromise it.

You should also be careful to only take antibiotics when necessary. It’s another thing that damages our microbiome and it can take a year to recover.

What are your favorite alcohol alternatives?

To no surprise, one of my favorite alcohol alternatives is kombucha. It is savory, tart 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!

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