We’re in the middle of the Festive Season, holidays and usually over-indulging. For most people, that means an increase in celebrations…potentially leading to indulging in food and alcohol more than we usually would.
Whether it’s a quick mid-week catch-up with some old friends or a weekend getaway with family, overindulging is a common theme of this time of the year.
So this is the perfect time to discuss how we can protect ourselves from the dreaded gluttony hangovers.
More specifically, hangovers and how our gut can potentially be our protector.
We are going to delve into the topic and figure out the good and the bad about alcohol, if a healthy microbiome can prevent you from feeling the effects of over-indulging and precisely how to protect your gut if you do take it a bit too far.
If you have ever drunk alcohol, it is safe to say you have probably experienced a hangover some time in your life. If you gave it a good nudge the night before, you have definitely signed up for a day of misery.
The technical term is veisalgia.
This word was created from the Norwegian kveis, which means ‘uneasiness following debauchery,’ and the ancient Greek/Latin term algia, meaning ‘pain.’
Not far off, really.
It was a term coined in 2000 by a few creative drug and alcohol experts. Because it is a mix of Greek and Norwegian, it isn’t always formally recognised. But it kind of rolls of the tongue and sounds impressive.
The symptoms are varied…and include the old-time favourites of nausea and even a bit of vomiting, side-splitting headache, lethargy, and an explosion of diarrhoea. Everyone’s experience is slightly different but no less debilitating.
The hangover can begin several hours after the cessation of drinking when blood alcohol concentration is falling. This is because you are not masking the damage with the ethanol.
Please don’t make the mistake of thinking a hangover is withdrawal, because it isn’t. You can experience a hangover when you do not have a tolerance (not dependent) and when you do have a tolerance to alcohol (dependent).
The anatomy of a hangover
There are a few mechanisms at play with the garden variety hangover.
Inflammation of the gut is a significant contributor due to the irritation from alcohol. This can even lead to poor intestinal barrier integrity or leaky gut syndrome, allowing bacteria and pathogens to enter the bloodstream, setting off an immune response, general lethargy, and brain fog.
From a chemical perspective, alcohol is broken down into a compound called acetaldehyde. This is toxic to the body. A particular enzyme, called aldehyde dehydrogenase, is needed in reasonable amounts to clear it from the body. This enzyme sometimes can’t keep up with the onslaught. In this case, the acetaldehyde builds up and causes flushing, headache, nausea, and palpitations…sound familiar?
This is a curious syndrome in some East Asian heritages. Some have an inherited deficiency for aldehyde dehydrogenase, so they are unable to break down alcohol completely.
Of course, alcohol is a diuretic. This means you pee more when you drink. If you don’t attempt to replace some of the fluids with water, you tend to become dehydrated – resulting in headache, lethargy, poor functioning gut, and decreased blood volume leading to feelings of dizziness. You get the picture.
Alcohol is also shown to disrupt circadian rhythms, which gut health plays a significant role in. This disruption tends to make the hangover more intense. It is also thought that the congeners in alcohol that are a by-product of distillation and fermentation make an already lousy hangover worse.
The pain typically subsides after a few hours but can take up to 24 hours. We don’t need to tell you that it takes a bit of rest and TLC and a few hundred declarations of ‘I’m never going to do that again!’ to feel better.
But alcohol doesn’t just cause hangovers. It can affect your gut health as well.
Alcohol and its effect on the body
We will take a look at how alcohol passes through the body, why it has the potential to wreak such havoc on the gut, and how optimal gut health can make your hangovers more manageable.
Why our gut gets upset after drinking alcohol
After we take our first sip, it takes between 30 minutes to 2 hours to fully absorb into the blood. The stomach absorbs around 20%, and the small intestine takes the lion’s share at 80%.
The gut doesn’t like most types of alcohol. In fact, alcohol is treated by the human body as a toxin. This causes the body to mount an inflammatory response the next day during a hangover (Mackus, 2017).
Having a single night of overdoing it on the booze can give you more than a hangover in the morning. It can rip through your gut and cause a significant shift in your gut bacteria and bring on symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, bloating, and gas.
Drinking can also trigger some individuals to produce an abundance of stomach acid which sets off a chain of events that cause pain and inflammation in the stomach, referred to as gastritis. This can start to happen after just one drink. Some of you may have experienced this while drinking a lot – burning pain, nausea, vomiting, burping, or even hiccups. Obviously, it can last for way longer than an episode of partying.
With repeated exposure, alcohol can cause dysbiosis, a condition when harmful bacteria outnumber the balance of beneficial bacteria. This can lead to whole-body inflammation, allowing toxins more room to enter the bloodstream unabated, resulting in autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammation. (Mackus et al., 2016)
But it’s not all bad news.
How does alcohol help the body?
Even though the majority of alcohol can cause instant irritation, it isn’t all bad.
Red wine seems to be an exception. In fact, it has been found to support good bacteria because it contains polyphenols. These reduce inflammation and boost beneficial gut bacteria.
Even though this is an excepted fact and understood by the general public, a caveat needs to be mentioned. This benefit is only when red wine is drunk in moderation. (Hint – you could always drink red wine in moderation, regularly, to prepare it for the Chrissy onslaught!)
What the experts advise
This can get complicated. To reduce the health risks of alcohol, the NHMRC Australian Alcohol Guidelines recommend no more than ten standard drinks a week and four standard drinks in a day.
The NHMRC reports that anything over four standard drinks would technically be considered a binge. However, some of you may be familiar with the Australian Bureau of Statistics guidelines, which define a binge drinking session as more than seven drinks a night for men and more than five drinks in a session for women. A binge-drinking session is considered harmful.
In Australian terms, a standard drink is a small glass of wine (100mls), a nip (30mls) of spirit, or a middy or pot of beer or cider (285ml).
Some of you might be thinking easy peasy; there is no way I drink that much in a month. But some of you will be wondering what the h#%%!
It doesn’t mean that all alcohol is bad. As mentioned before, there is ample scientific evidence to indicate that a safe alcohol level can reduce the risk of harm to your health.
Are Some Alcoholic Drinks Better than Others
There is anecdotal evidence with people suffering from IBS that different types of alcohol trigger their symptoms. And some drinks are considered less likely to flare up any abdominal symptoms. These are beer, red or white wine, whisky, vodka, and gin. This has to do with FODMAPs, and there are currently studies underway across the globe to determine which are better for people prone to gastrointestinal sensitivities.
Can Good Gut Health Protect Me from Hangovers?
Support your gut health on a daily basis. You will be able to handle a little overindulgence, including protecting you from harsh hangover symptoms.
Consider following a few simple guidelines and strategies to maintain a healthy gut and protect it from damage during the silly season.
The best protection is to balance harmful and good bacteria; otherwise, your body won’t be prepared to deal with the intake of alcohol. When there is a healthy balance of bacteria, it produces anti-inflammatory compounds that counteract the painful inflammation that comes with hangovers.
New research is looking into the benefits of dosing up with prebiotics for alcohol metabolism (Irwin, 2018). This was a pilot study; however, they found there is enough cause to keep investigating.
What we know is that you need to feed your beneficial bacteria with a prebiotic. Both Gut Performancer® and Gut Performance + Collagen are the perfect solutions. They are both loaded with prebiotics to nourish and support the beneficial bacteria to flourish and grow. The bonus of collagen is to provide a leg up to repair any damage to the gut lining.
Ensure you eat before drinking and maintain adequate water hydration throughout the celebration season.
Try to keep away from high FODMAP alcohols such as cider, rum, sherry, port, and sweet dessert wines and stick to red or white wine, beer, or white spirits.
Consider replenishing your beneficial bacteria with high-quality probiotics – either in capsule form or through your daily dietary intake. This helps reinforce the beneficial bacteria, control harmful bacteria pathogens, stimulate essential B vitamins, and produce antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.
It doesn’t take much to tip your optimal gut health over the edge during the festive season. Prime your gut for the celebrations and know that you have done all you can to reduce the risks of not only getting a hangover but protecting your gut health and overall wellbeing.
Let us know via our Gut Performance® Instagram page how you are preparing and protecting your gut health this party season and beyond into 2022.
We wish you and your family a very happy and safe festive season.
Irwin, C., Khalesi, S., Cox, A. J., Grant, G., davey, A. K., Bulmer, A. C., & Desbrow, B. (2018). Effect of 8-weeks prebiotics/probiotics supplementation on alcohol metabolism and blood biomarkers of healthy adults: a pilot study. European journal of nutrition, 57(4), 1523-1534. Retrieved 2021, from https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-017-1437-8
Mackus, M., Adams, S., Barzilay, A., Benson, S., Blau, L., Iversen, J., . . . Verster, J. C. (2016). Proceeding of the 8th Alochol Hangover Research Group Meeting. Current drug abuse reviews, 9(2), 106-112. Retrieved 2021, from https://doi.org/10.2174/1874473709666161229121527