7 Surprising Signs Drinking Alcohol May Be Impacting Your Gut Health, According To Experts

Milan Ilic Photographer/Shutterstock

Our gut is home to trillions of microbes that are crucial to our health. These microbes do everything from helping us digest our food to improving our immune system. When these microbes are out of balance, it can lead to consequences for our health. Alcohol, in particular, can cause damage to our gut and lead to painful side effects.

Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com, tells Bustle that alcohol can cause oxidative stress and upset that delicate microbial balance. “In other words, alcohol may cause ‘bad bacteria’ in the gut to proliferate more easily, while killing off ‘good gut bacteria,’” he says.

This can lead to a many uncomfortable physical symptoms, ranging from digestive issues to inflammation. However, this damage is often not permanent, Dr. Tarek Hassanein, director of Southern California GI and Liver Centers tells Bustle. “The gut recovers fast and the bacteria can recover again.”

If stomach problems are becoming an issue, cutting down on drinking can allow the “good” bacteria in your gut to come back and improve your overall health. To do this, Dr. Axe recommends having no more than one to two drinks per day, which is considered “moderate” for most adults. He emphasizes that if you have trouble doing this on your own, you should consider getting professional help from a counselor.

To help you determine if your gut health is suffering, experts say these are the symptoms that alcohol is impacting your gut.

1. You Feel Bloated

Thunderstock/Shutterstock

If you are constantly feeling bloated, this could mean that your alcohol intake is starting to take a toll on your digestive system.

“When it becomes serious, alcohol-related liver disease can cause digestive distress in many ways,” Dr. Axe says.

While bloating may seem like a mild discomfort, it could be a indicator of greater damage, and if this symptom is persistent, it may be time to talk to your doctor.

2. You've Lost Your Appetite

mavo/Shutterstock

As a result of these digestive issues, you may find yourself eating less overall. Dr. Hassanein says that he’s found that people who drink often, tend to drink with less food in their stomach. By drinking on an empty stomach, you end up putting even more strain on your gut.

“If you're going to be drinking, [try to] eat something before you drink,” Dr. Hassanein says. This way food can help absorb the alcohol in your stomach.

3. You’re Nauseous

Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

When alcohol causes an increase in "bad" bacteria in the gut, you can find yourself feeling nauseous.

Dr. Axe says that changes to your lifestyle can help alleviate this. By eating a balanced meal that has sources of fat, protein and fiber, you can boost your digestive health and prevent nausea.

4. You’re Constipated

Leszek Glasner/Shutterstock

Along with nausea, the damage that alcohol causes to gut can lead to constipation. Constipation can be extremely uncomfortable, but a change in diet can help.

In addition to seeking more balanced food options, you should focus on increasing your fiber intake. Dr. Axe recommends eating more foods like beans, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables.

5. You’re Suffering From Inflammation

TB studio/Shutterstock

Inflammation can be attributed to many causes, but if you’re constantly experiencing inflammation anywhere in your body, alcohol may be to blame.

“Heavy drinking can lead to permeability of the intestinal lining, also called ‘leaky gut syndrome,’ which increases autoimmune reactions and inflammation throughout the body,” Dr. Axe says.

By drinking less, you can help heal "leaky gut syndrome" and reduce your inflammation.

6. You Feel Weak

wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

The "leaky" gut caused by heavy drinking can cause dangerous bacteria to enter your bloodstream and put pressure on your immune system.

Dr. Axe says that there are steps you can take to support your immune system, which will help you feel stronger and healthier. He recommends getting more sleep, exercising and overall reducing your stress levels.

7. You're Always Sick

kurhan/Shutterstock

With a weakened immune system, you at risk to getting sick more often. Dr. Hassanein says that, as a result of consuming too much alcohol, you may suffer from more infections than the average person.

If you're consistently getting sick, then talk to your doctor to see if alcohol may be the cause.

While these signs don't guarantee that you suffer from "leaky gut syndrome," experiencing one or more of these symptoms could indicate that your alcohol consumption is affecting your gut health. Cutting back on alcohol can allow the bacteria in your gut to recover and leave you feeling happier and healthier.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).