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Are you giving up alcohol for dry January? Lots of people give up the booze after drinking too much at Christmas. If you’re starting the year alcohol-free what does it to do your gut health?

How does alcohol affect your gut health?

 The microbes in our gut help us digest our food, create our hormones and also create some of our vitamins. The microbes are essential to our health, and when we drink alcohol it affects which bugs get to thrive, and which struggle.

Excess alcohol can increase inflammation in the gut, and increase permeability (leaky gut) as well as damage to the tissues in the intestines. Leakiness in the gut has been associated with changes in mood, anxiety and depression.

This means excess alcohol can contribute to your digestive symptoms, as well as other wider issues around the body.

Will dry January help my digestion?

 You might find a month of dry January is all you need to improve your bloating and constipation or diarrhoea. In one study with people who were alcohol dependent who detoxed had positive changes in their gut bacteria after 3 weeks of no drinking.

Reduced levels of positive bacteria like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus are lower in people who drink heavily. Some studies have shown bacteria increased once participants stopped drinking.

Can gut health affect alcoholism?

 Interestingly it’s also possible altering the gut microbiota might improve the rate of relapse for people who are alcohol dependent. Some, but not all, alcohol-dependent subjects developed gut leakiness, which was associated with higher scores of depression, anxiety, and alcohol craving after 3 weeks of abstinence.

There is a huge connection between the brain and the gut, with microbes, neurotransmitters and hormones travelling between the brain and the gut constantly.

Feelings of depression and anxiety are often why people turn to alcohol, so the way gut microbes affect the brain may be an important psychological factor in whether people start drinking again.

Will my digestion improve if I give up alcohol for January?

 If you’ve been experiencing digestive issues like bloating, gas and constipation then a break from alcohol might improve these symptoms. If you have longer term digestions issues it’s always good to get checked out by your GP.

It’s important to feed the positive bacteria with fibre to keep them growing and crowd out the less helpful bugs.

  • Concentrate on eating plenty of fibre rich foods like wholegrains, vegetables, pulses and fruits
  • Eat pre-biotics like oats, leeks, onions, garlic, asparagus, artichokes and green bananas
  • Drink plenty of water, aim for 8 glasses a day to stay hydrated
  • Increase gentle exercise to keep your body and digestion moving.

Dry January can be a great start to the year in lots of ways, improving sleep, energy levels and mood. And your gut microbes may just thank you for the break.

Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritionist (mBANT, CNHC). I help people with IBS, gut health and digestive issues.

I can help you to:

  • understand your digestion better, so you recognise your triggers
  • eat a well balanced diet, with tasty meals that are simple to prepare
  • develop healthy, sustainable habits for life

“Anna is amazing! I feel totally transformed"

To find more about 1:1 nutrition consultations or my group membership see my IBS Diet support page

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