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Should You Be Supporting Your Gut Health on Your Alcohol-Free Journey?

What's the deal with gut health?

I frequently speak about the importance of gut health on our overall health. There's a big misconception that gut health is exclusively focused on digestion and regularity of bowel movements, but it is so much more than that!

Especially if you have a history of moderate to heavy alcohol-use, gut health is a critical factor for supporting a sober or sober-curious lifestyle.

In fact, imbalances in gut health can contribute to a variety of symptoms and diagnoses, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Skin issues (acne, eczema, psoriasis, dry skin)
  • Mood imbalances (depression, anxiety, or other)
  • ADHD
  • Brain fog or poor concentration
  • Sugar, carb and alcohol cravings
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Weak immune system
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • And more

And of course, if you experience digestive concerns like IBS, constipation, hemorrhoids, reflux, heartburn, bloating or other digestive issues, this is a sure sign that the gut is out of balance.

Gut health can be negatively affected by a poor diet (high sugar, high carb, high processed foods), overuse of medications (NSAIDs, antibiotics, steroids), environmental toxins, stress, and ALCOHOL!

Alcohol can be particularly disruptive to the gut, and can contribute to several different impacts to gut and digestive health. Let's break them down:

1. Digestion & Absorption

Alcohol's absorption mostly occurs in the stomach and small intestine. Because of this, it can compete with and block the absorption of nutrients from the foods that we eat. It can also reduce the amount of digestive enzymes and create imbalances in stomach acid levels, which can contribute further to digestive upset.

It is quite common for those with an alcohol use history to experience hearburn, reflux, or GERD. But the good news is that these are often quite easy to reverse and improve. Many of my clients in the Functional Sobriety Academy and those who work with me one-on-one often find they are able to eliminate symptoms, as well as medications like omeprazole or Prilosec, after addressing their gut with food and supplements.

2. Gut Microbiome

The gut microbiome is a hot topic in health today, and rightfully so. The gut microbiome refers the to balance of bacteria and other organisms that live within our digestive tract. The gut requires a balance of "good" bacteria (what we often refer to as our probiotics) over too much "bad" bacteria (those that can overgrow and cause health concerns).

Alcohol is known to lower our probiotic levels, decrease bacterial diversity, and allow for the overgrowth of the harmful bacteria. The good news is that the gut microbiome changes with the foods we consume, and can also be improved by the use of probiotics and other supplements (more on this below).

3. The Gut Lining

The lining of our gut is made up of a single layer of cells that are held together by what we call “tight junctions”. These tight junctions only allow for the passage of very small molecules, like vitamins and minerals. But over time, this fragile boundary can breakdown with exposure to toxins, a poor diet, stress, and you guessed it... alcohol. In fact, some experts suggest that even a single alcoholic beverage begins to breakdown the gut lining.

In functional medicine, we often refer to this process as “leaky gut” (or intestinal permeability), which means the gut literally becomes leaky! This can create a slew of health effects, including food and environmental allergy development, inflammatory conditions, and even the development of autoimmune diseases.

The lining of the gut can heal over time, however, stressors must be eliminated in order for the body to begin to patch up the gut lining.

 

So, now what?!

Now that we've discussed the different ways that we should be thinking about gut health, let's talk about how to begin to heal and rebalance the gut!

 

Here are my top recommendations to get started improving your gut health today:

Increase Your Fiber Intake:

Fiber is key for improving bowel habits as well as feeding the probiotic bacteria in our gut. I suggest aiming for 25-35g of fiber per day. It can be helpful to track your fiber using a food tracker for a few days to get a baseline of your current intake. About 95% of Americans do not get the recommended fiber intake. Fiber is found in our plant foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.

Add probiotic-rich foods:

Probiotics can be found in fermented foods, which can be added to your routine to help improve the gut microbiome. This includes sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled vegetables (not the over processed jarred pickles), kefir, and kombucha. Just be mindful of the sugar content when choosing sweetened foods as sugar can negatively impact the gut microbiome.

Try adding supplements:

Adding supplements can be an excellent way to support gut health and begin repairing the body from long-term alcohol consumption. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Probiotics: Taking a probiotic supplement is a great way to increase levels of our “good” gut bacteria and improve bacterial diversity. I suggest a broad-spectrum probiotic, which includes a variety of different strains like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
  • Stomach soothers: Supplements like aloe vera, slippery elm and marshmallow root can often be used to help soothe and protect the lining of the stomach and intestinal tract. They can also help support bowel regularity and minimize digestive discomfort.
  • Gut healers: When it comes to supporting gut health, it is important to incorporate foods and ingredients that help to repair the gut lining, like Vitamin C and Zinc. I often suggest amino acid supplements, like L-glutamine, which can also help improve intestinal lining health.

Check out our Functional Sobriety Gut Repair Supplement Pack, which includes all of the above supplements in one convenient pack! 

Want to learn more about a functional approach to a sober or sober-curious lifestyle? You can also check out the Functional Sobriety Academy, my online course that helps you heal from long-term alcohol use and supports your alcohol-free goals. Click here to learn more >>

 

Are you looking for support to stay alcohol-free?

Learn more about gaining support on your alcohol-free and health goals. Join our members-only community, enroll in our self-guided course, or get supplements to lower cravings and improve your energy and mood.

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