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 2012 questionnaire sent out by Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz reveals just how many people might have some degree of alcohol intolerance. As Men's Health reports, the survey was conducted among 950 people in western Germany, and nearly 25 percent of individuals reported all the common signs of alcohol intolerance, without ever knowing that they had suffered from it before. Study coauthor Dr. Heinz Decker says in the report that 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, as Scientific American states. This means means you're more susceptible to absorb food allergens into your system. In turn, 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 alcohol, you'll probably face either a classic stomachache or a feeling of nausea. Of course, this may be hard to detect since slight nausea is often a symptom of over-drinking. For some people, simply adjusting how much they drink will keep symptoms like this at bay, according to Mayo Clinic. 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 can be a giveaway that something in your cocktail doesn't sit so well with you. Exactly which ingredient causes this is different for everyone. In his report, 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 points to an allergy, which is more serious than an intolerance. According Mayo Clinic, being of Asian descent puts you at higher risk of alcohol intolerance. Red cheeks are just one of the initial symptoms if you're actually experiencing alcohol intolerance. Additionally, 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. In other words, you may not be allergic to alcohol, per se, but alcohol could amplify existing allergies you may not have been aware of.
However, non-alcoholic allergies aren't the only possible cause of your runny nose and itchy eyes. There are two ingredients in alcohol that are known to produce histamines — bacteria and yeast — regardless of what allergies you've got. As Healthline reports, histamines are compounds that regulate physiological functions, make your blood vessels swell, your nose run, and your eyeballs itch. Previous studies have linked red wine with histamine intolerance, which might be what's happening if you get cold-like symptoms from sipping on a cabernet.
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 WebMD lists heartburn and heart palpitations as one of the most common symptoms of alcohol intolerance. So, 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. This type of headache will be a persistent pounding in the back of your noggin every time you're holding a beverage in your hand. According to Cleveland Clinic, drinking-caused headaches are a pretty ordinary symptom of an alcohol intolerance.
As Cleveland Clinic also states, hangover-like symptoms in general (headache, fatigue, nausea) are also symptoms of alcohol intolerance. Again, it can be hard to distinguish the two. However, if you start feeling "hungover" pretty soon after you start drinking, that might be a signal that you're alcohol intolerant.
6. You Get Diarrhea
If you experience diarrhea every time you drink alcohol, this could be a key indicator that your body is sensitive to alcohol. According to the NIH, one symptom of alcohol intolerance is diarrhea. This may related to a previously mentioned problem: alcohol makes you absorb food allergens more easily into your stomach. However, it could also just be that your body can't process the booze very well.
As stated by Drugs.com — a website that sounds like it was named by a preteen who just finished a D.A.R.E. course — limiting the type of alcohol you're drinking as well as how much you're drinking can help alleviate symptoms of alcohol intolerance. See if red wine may be the culprit of your stomach cramps. Experiment with the kind of beer you're drinking — switching to gluten-free beer might help settle your stomach. As long as you're not wrapped around the toilet for hours, these bodily functions are just a sign that you don't react very well to whatever you just drank. Experts at Mayo Clinic say you don't have to completely swear off alcohol just because of these reactions. Just be more aware of what you're drinking and moderate accordingly. If your symptoms become more severe, consulting with your doctor is the best idea.
Decker, H. et al. (2012) Prevalence of Wine Intolerance. The Journal of Relationships, Deutsches Arzteblatt international, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3391999/
Wantke, F. et al (1994) The red wine provocation test: intolerance to histamine as a model for food intolerance, Allergy Proceedings, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8005453
Wiley-Blackwell, (2008) Alcohol Is Associated With Risk Of Perennial Allergic Rhinitis." Clinical & Experimental Allergy, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080729133521.htm
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