6 Signs You're Alcohol Intolerant

Most of us have learned by now that those couple extra beers don't come without consequences. But what if you don't drink too much, and still tend to feel sick every time you imbibe? There's a chance that you might be missing the signs that you have an alcohol intolerance.

Apparently, it's more common than you might expect. A questionnaire was recently sent out by Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz to 950 people in western Germany, and the results were quite surprising. Nearly 25 percent of individuals reported all the common signs of alcohol intolerance, without ever knowing that they had suffered from it before. Dr. Heinz Decker, an author of the study, says there are all kinds of hidden ingredients in booze, whether it's wine, beer, or liquor, that can set off the littlest of reactions.

Confusing alcohol intolerance with an alcohol allergy happens a lot, and you'll often hear the two terms interchanged. But while there are some overlaps, an allergy to alcohol is much rarer, and its symptoms are a lot stronger. For example, a person who is allergic to booze will likely experience some physical pain and a swelling of their breathing passageways, whereas a person who simply has an intolerance will not.

Wondering if you and alcohol need to have a mediation? Here are six signs that you're alcohol intolerant.

1. Your Stomach Hurts


Alcohol has a vasodilatory effect on the stomach, which means you're more susceptible to absorb food allergens into your system. So ingredients like gluten and wheat, which are usually found in beer, might leave your abdomen feeling icky and bloated, even if they don't normally bother you when booze isn't in the picture.

If your body is having a tough time processing it all, you'll probably face either a classic stomachache or a feeling of nausea. For some people, simply adjusting how much they drink will keep symptoms like this at bay. Try lowering the number of beers you put on your tab — and maybe switch to gluten-free beverages to avoid the tummy ache altogether.

2. Your Face Turns Red


The pinkish red flush is a dead giveaway that something in your cocktail doesn't sit so well with you. Exactly what the ingredient is that causes this is different for everyone. Dr. Decker says the protein from grapes in your wine, combined with sulfites and other organic compounds, might be the culprit of this side effect. There's an allergen named LTP, found in the skin of grapes, that makes red wine very likely to spark such a reaction. White wine is made without the skin, so you might have better luck switching to Chardonnay.

Don't automatically assume that you've got alcohol flush syndrome, though, when you start to blush at the bar. This syndrome, more commonly known as the "Asian glow," points to an allergy, which is more serious than an intolerance. Red cheeks are just the beginning if you're a victim of the glow; you'll likely feel dizzy and break out in hives as well.

3. You Get Itchy Eyes & A Stuffy Nose


There's a chance that boozing it up could trigger some allergies that aren't alcohol related — even ones that don't bother you on a daily basis. A Danish study published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy closely followed the drinking habits of 5,870 young adult women; researchers found that every extra drink the women had a week increased their risk for seasonal allergies by three percent.

A tree nut allergy might be to blame for these symptoms as well. It's common to find nuts in distillates and alcoholic extracts, and whiskey and bourbon are sometimes fermented in tree barrels, so pay close attention to the labeling.

However, non-alcoholic allergies aren't the only possible causes. There are two ingredients in alcohol that are known to produce histamines — bacteria and yeast — regardless of what allergies you've got. Histamines, compounds that regulate physiological functions, make your blood vessels swell, your nose run, and your eyeballs itch. (Red wine is a particular culprit for producing histamines as well.)

4. Your Heart Rate Rises


Suddenly feel your heart beating faster than usual after a second glass of wine? There's definitely something about the drink that your body isn't happy with. It's recommended that you see an allergist and get tested to find out if there's a particular ingredient that's causing you grief.

It might feel slightly scary at first, but Dr. Decker says experiencing an increase in your heart beat is one of the most common symptoms of alcohol intolerance, and it's not something that you need to be too concerned about. However, if it persists for a long time and you're having trouble breathing because of it, ring up your doc right away. You might be facing an alcohol allergy instead.

5. Your Head Hurts Every Time You Drink


We're not just talking about the hangover headache here. I mean a persistent pounding in the back of your noggin every time you're holding a beverage in your hand. If this sounds like you, that's a pretty ordinary symptom of an alcohol intolerance. Although there's really nothing out there that points to a specific reason behind the headache, it's known to be one of the first signs that alcohol isn't your best friend.

6. You Get Diarrhea


There's nothing normal about running to the toilet and letting out watery stool every time you drink alcohol. This unpleasant symptom might be related back to the fact that alcohol makes you absorb food allergens more easily into your stomach; it could also be just that your body can't process the booze very well, and your BMs will automatically reflect that.

Experiment with what kind of alcohol you're drinking — and how much of it. As long as you're not wrapped around the toilet for hours, also harboring intense stomach cramps, this bodily function is just a sign that you don't react very well to whatever you just drank. Dr. Decker says you don't have to completely swear off alcohol just because of this reaction; just be more aware of what you're guzzling down every weekend, and moderate accordingly.

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