We all know alcohol is used in household products as an antibacterial - so what does our glass of wine do to us?

Alcohol is used as a disinfectant

We are all quite familiar with using alcohol as disinfectants for our hands – many of us carry around those little alcohol based hand rubs for ‘emergency’ situations when we can’t get to a hand basin to wash with soap and water. Disinfectant hand rubs need to be a strength of 60-80% alcohol to effectively kill off microbes.

But what about the alcohol (beer, wine or spirits) that we drink?

Not that we would ever recommend alcohol as a treatment to kill stomach bugs, but more importantly what damage can alcohol cause to our gastrointestinal tract? Studies have shown that high strength alcohol that is greater than 40%, which is the concentration of vodka, does indeed have some ability to kill bacteria in the mouth (if exposed for at least one minute that is).

The effect of alcohol is more detrimental in the stomach though, where lower concentrations can cause erosions to the stomach wall. The higher the concentration of alcohol, the more damage is caused to the stomach and obviously deeper erosions, or ulcers, take longer to heal. These erosions do not seem to occur further down into the small intestine, but what does happen is an imbalance in our natural gut flora – also known as ‘dysbiosis’.

What are the symptoms of dysbiosis?

Intestinal dysbiosis is a condition where our ‘microbiota’ – the trillions of bacteria in our gut – are out of balance and can cause symptoms of digestive disturbance, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Symptoms of IBS can include bloating and wind pain, constipation and/or diarrhoea, reflux or indigestion, and even joint pain, fatigue, headaches and difficulty concentrating.

Other than chronic alcohol consumption, more common causes of intestinal dysbiosis tend to include: chronic stress; gastrointestinal infections; medications such as antibiotics and anti-inflammatories and a diet that is low in nutrients from whole foods. We have all heard of the benefits associated with the occasional (standard) glass of wine, but if your regular alcohol intake is combined with the known causes of dysbiosis, this could compound the effects on your precious gut microbiota.

Should I just give up drinking?

So before giving up your nightly tipple for ‘dry November’, thinking that this may be causing your gut upset or symptoms of IBS, perhaps find out what is really going on by coming for a proper analysis and full review of your microbiota and lifestyle factors. There’s no need to live with these symptoms and the occasional glass shouldn’t flare us up.

Your integrative medicine practitioner can undertake a microbial gut-analysis to help determine the root cause of your symptoms. A personalised treatment plan will be developed for you based on the results of your test.

Written by Julie Farrelly, Integrative Medicine Practitioner at River Tree Health. 26th October 2017