Alcohol and Autoimmune Disease + Less Inflammatory Options - Nikki Yelton RD

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Alcohol and Autoimmune Disease + Less Inflammatory Options

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When it comes down to it, alcohol is a toxin to the body. But can you indulge in the occasional alcoholic drink without ruining your health? And, is alcohol ever okay in the case of autoimmune disease? 

champagne glasses with lemon twists, which is a less inflammatory alcohol option

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Alcohol is a large part of our society today, mainly in the context of social events and celebrations. Yet, fundamentally, alcohol provides no nutritional value. So, can you indulge in the occasional alcoholic drink without ruining your health? Possibly… But, to what extent? Does moderate alcohol consumption pose the same health risks as alcohol in excess? And, is alcohol ever okay in the case of autoimmune disease? 

THE DANGERS OF ALCOHOL

When it comes down to it, alcohol is a toxin to the body. It provides zero nutritional benefit. Given its toxic properties, any alcoholic substance naturally creates an inflammatory response within the body. The more alcohol consumed, the more inflammation caused. Needless to say, excessive alcohol consumption can be extremely dangerous to our health. In addition to creating chronic inflammation, any consumption of alcohol impairs brain function, increases calorie consumption, strains the liver, and more. 

the dangers of alcohol and autoimmune disease
HOW ALCOHOL AFFECTS THE GUT 

Due to its inflammatory nature, alcohol has a detrimental effect on the gut microbiome. Excessive alcohol causes inflammation in the microbiome which then leads to the junctions of the gut lining loosening. This is referred to as leaky gut. When your gut becomes leaky, pathogens can cross the lining and into your blood, causing inflammation throughout your body. 

In addition to being inherently inflammatory, when specific gut bacteria combine with alcohol, a histamine response occurs. Cue: inflammatory symptoms, like headaches, swelling, hives, joint pain, digestive issues, and more.

Alcohol also disrupts the bacteria in your microbiome. As you likely know, alcohol is often used as a disinfectant. Drinking alcohol is no different. When you drink an alcoholic beverage, it can kill off various strains of gut bacteria, throwing the balance of your microbiome out of whack. This means the balance between good and bad bacteria is off kilter, which leads to GI issues, leaky gut, autoimmunity, and more.

ALCOHOL AND AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE

Alcohol also significantly impairs the immune system. As we know, the immune system is primarily housed in the gut. When gut integrity is compromised, so is our immunity. Alcohol consumption, especially in excess, has been linked to poor immune function and increased risk of illness. 

Even those with a strong and healthy immune system feel the effects of drinking alcohol on their immunity. Because of the toxic properties of alcohol, the effects are tenfold when it comes to those struggling with an autoimmune condition. If you drink alcohol before your autoimmune condition is reversed, you’re likely to feel the hangover for days or even weeks after. This is because the alcohol further impairs your immune cells and triggers symptoms like bloating, fatigue, and GI issues. Needless to say, alcohol and autoimmune disease are not a good match.

Signs you're more sensitive to alcohol
ALCOHOL WHILE HEALING THE GUT AND REVERSING AUTOIMMUNITY

Since alcohol is inflammatory to the gut lining and microbiome, it has no part to play in any autoimmune or gut healing protocol. During the healing stage, it’s best to avoid alcohol entirely. Why? Simply put, alcohol is counterproductive in any effort to heal the gut and reverse autoimmunity.

The bacteria in your gut can actually help you metabolize alcohol. If you don’t have enough helpful bacteria in your gut, your body is unable to detox as efficiently. Therefore, you feel the effects of alcohol much more. 

That being said, I realize sometimes a celebratory drink is inevitable. Healing is still possible when the occasional alcoholic beverage is consumed. However, note: healing will take longer due to the irritation and inflammation caused by alcohol. For this reason, alcohol should be limited to special occasions.

alcohol and autoimmune disease
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? 

Most of us have experienced having a few too many drinks at some point in our lives. It can be pretty clear when you’ve truly overdone it when it comes to alcohol. The question that remains however, is how much is too much when you’re living with an autoimmune condition? 

Like I said, when in the process of healing the gut, refraining from drinking is the best option. If you’re doing all the right things with your diet and lifestyle aside from the occasional drink, I suggest cutting it all together and seeing how you feel. 

If you really look forward to a social drink at happy hour or a glass of wine after work, make sure you keep it to one standard drink only once in a while. 

One standard drink is considered:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer
  • 8 to 9 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor

I advise you to treat alcohol like sweets and junk food. It’s meant to be an occasional treat rather than a major part of your life. True moderation is key! 

THE BEST ALCOHOL OPTIONS FOR THOSE WITH AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE

Once past the initial stages of healing your gut and autoimmunity, alcohol can be enjoyed occasionally and in moderation if it is something you truly enjoy and look forward to. Luckily, there are ways to consume alcohol while minimizing the inflammatory effects and reducing most health consequences. 

Alcohol that is free of gluten and low in sugar, additives, and sulfates, is the best option for those with autoimmunity or compromised guts. Here are the least inflammatory alcoholic options:

less inflammatory alcohol for those with autoimmune disease

Red Wine

Red wine is actually known for its health benefits, when consumed in moderation. It’s naturally high in antioxidants, like resveratrol, which fights inflammation and oxidative stress. When enjoying a glass of red wine, always opt for organic, sulfate-free wine. I recommend Dry Farms Wine as a top quality option that most individuals do well with. 

Tequila

Tequila, made from 100% agave, is a naturally grain and gluten-free alcoholic option. It also is low on the glycemic index and has a minimal effect on blood sugar levels. However, tequila not made from 100% agave will most likely contain filler alcohols made from corn or other grains. Always look for 100% agave tequila!

Hard Cider

Since it’s made from apples, hard apple cider is a naturally gluten-free alcohol option. Ideally, the ingredient list should be short and sweet. It’s best to opt for dry ciders, which contain less sugar and no added fruit juices.

Ultra Brut Champagne 

Ultra brut, or extra dry, champagne is a great bubbly option, as it contains less sugar. Better yet, the fermentation process can actually provide some probiotic properties. 

HOW TO AVOID THE HANGOVER 

The best way to avoid the negative effects of alcohol is to limit your consumption. However, there are additional strategies to reduce the risk of a hangover, minimize inflammation, and promote quick recovery:

  • Avoid sugary mixers, like soda, pre-made cocktail mix, or sugary syrups. The refined sugar, in addition to the alcohol, is a recipe for a headache and upset stomach. 
  • Add anti-inflammatory herbs like basil, mint, ginger to protect against inflammation and add natural flavor.
  • Drink 8 ounces of filtered water per glass of alcohol. For bonus hydration, add a pinch of sea salt or electrolytes to your water.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol with 2-3 hours of bedtime. 
  • Take activated charcoal capsules within 30 minutes of consuming alcohol. The charcoal naturally aids the body in excreting toxins quickly.
  • Consider taking extra glutathione to improve cellular recovery. You can read more about glutathione here. 
THE BOTTOM LINE

No matter how you look at it, alcohol is an inflammatory substance. The more alcohol consumed, the worse the consequences will be. However, there is a time and place for everything, including alcohol. When autoimmunity and gut health is under control, alcohol can be enjoyed on occasion without risking setbacks or flare ups. 

It’s important to realize that everyone is bio-individual and will have varying responses to alcohol. Learn what works best for you and your body! For more guidance on healing your gut and reversing autoimmunity, apply to work with me, here!

alcohol and autoimmune disease
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"When it comes to balancing our body, healing the gut, reversing autoimmunity, and achieving optimal health—we are a lot like a car that won’t run right. In order to fix the problem once and for all instead of relying on jumper cables, we must get underneath the hood, run the diagnostics, and replace the battery so that it runs good as new."

-Nikki Yelton, RD

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