After a long day at work (which is pretty much most days), many people aren’t too keen on hearing they can’t have a drink when trying to stick to an Anti-Inflammatory Diet. After all, stress triggers inflammation, but a drink after work should help alleviate that.
A little contradictory, no? This begs the question: does alcohol cause inflammation or does alcohol use help stress, which thereby reduces inflammation?
This is a fantastic question since most people are drinking alcohol to ‘take the edge off’ on a regular basis. But also because the Mediterranean guidelines (which are the basic blueprint of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet) stipulate that moderate alcohol consumption is ok.
So let’s break these down to understand the relationship between inflammation and alcohol consumption, and if it’s possible to reduce inflammation while drinking alcohol, or if you should stop drinking alcohol altogether.
What is the cause of inflammation?
Your immune response is activated when your body is exposed to harmful agents such as viruses, bacteria, poisonous substances, or when you are injured.
Inflammatory cells and cytokines are sent out by your immune system as first responses, stimulating additional inflammatory cells called c reactive protein (crp), which is acute inflammation.
These cells initiate an inflammatory response to trap microbes and other harmful substances or start recovering the wounded tissue. Pain, swelling, bruising, and redness may happen due to this.
However, inflammation has an impact on physiological systems that are not visible when poor lifestyle habits turn into low-grade and chronic inflammation.
During chronic inflammation, the immune system keeps an alert state. Under these pressures arterial walls and organs could collapse, creating diseases. This is an extremely broad occurrence that can include asthma, inflammatory arthritis, ulcers, periodontitis, inflammatory arthritis.
The gut inflammation that occurs during prolonged alcohol consumption may also cause inflammation throughout the person’s system.
Prolonged chronic inflammation has been shown to increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and even autoimmune conditions.
How does drinking alcohol contribute to chronic inflammation?
The increase of gut microflora-derived lipopolysaccharide is just one way that drinking alcohol can cause inflammation.
This is because excessive alcohol consumption triggers the release of LPS, which are normally kept in check by a feedback loop in the central nervous system in conjunction with other organs in the body. Alcohol can thereby throw all of these systems out of whack, leading to systemic inflammatory effects.
However, it has also been shown that alcohol reduces other inflammatory markers in the body, including c-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and TNF-alpha receptor 2.
What health conditions can develop from alcohol inflammation or be exacerbated?
Alcohol inflammation in certain people is associated with numerous health concerns. These can manifest as symptoms made worse when a condition is present, or can actually develop due to chronic alcohol use. Alcohol-related medical conditions include:
- Alcohol-induced fatty liver disease occurs most frequently with long-term alcohol misuse. Since alcohol is processed in the liver, it’s recommended that anyone with liver disease abstain from alcohol consumption.
- Gout is a condition more frequently found in those with other chronic conditions, but can be significantly worsened with alochol use. Excessive alcohol consumption is thought to be a prime contributor of symptoms of gout attacks because of the increase in uric acid from alcohol. This can cause increased joint inflammation and pain.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) have been shown to significantly increase the occurrence of stomach bleeding and breeching the intestinal barrier due to alcohol consumption. Intestinal inflammation in these two conditions are the primary cause of pain and triggering flare-ups of symptoms.
Is alcohol bad for your health overall?
Obviously, alcohol abuse is one of these health factors that could tip either way depending on whether there is excessive alcohol consumption or not. But studies have shown specific effects alcohol consumption can have on systems in the body.
Alcohol and the brain
Alcohol can be an addictive chemical depending on several factors for each person.
In the brain, it blocks the neurons and blocks the body’s essential behavior to maintain the regular and healthy status, which alcohol interferes by blocking the neurons and leaving the person vulnerable. The interplay of all these factors in addition to genetic components is what makes certain people more prone to alcohol addiction.
Alcohol leads to intoxication, nausea, slurred speech, slower reflexes, and poor performance, with terrible memory blocking the myriad nerves controlling different body functions.
It also affects how decisions are made. So if someone is trying to stay away from certain foods (for example, to stay on an Anti-Inflammatory Diet), alcohol can affect decisions in refraining from certain foods that could make inflammation worse.
How alcohol affects the liver
The liver plays the most important role in removing alcohol from the body. The prolonged use of alcohol affects the liver regeneration ability and can leave scarring in the liver by disturbing the scar tissue removal enzymes from prolonged usage.
The first signs of liver damage through alcohol usage are abdominal pain and mouth dryness. Other accompanying symptoms include fatigue, jaundice, increased thirst, loss of appetite, and nausea.
Alcohol and blood sugar
Although alcohol intake has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels, this can actually be rebounded with alcohol use. This can be dangerous for those with insulin resistance or other metabolic disorders (especially when taking medications that affect blood sugar levels.)
When there are issues with blood sugar regulation, adding alcohol to the mix can cause spikes or drops in blood sugar that can become an immediate health threat.
Alcohol and lipid markers
Although many people don’t connect alcohol use with lipids, it actually has a big connection. Especially if alcohol use is heavy.
Alcohol can elevate triglycerides and have a negative effect on the HDL to LDL cholesterol in the blood.
How much alcohol is bad for you?
This is where alcohol and inflammation get tricky. Studies have been done in terms of amount consumed and the amount of inflammatory markers in the body.
What was found was interesting, considering the physiologic cascade of inflammatory events that can happen with alcohol intake.
On the contrary, what was found is called a bell curve effect (or J-curve effect).
The bell curve effect in studies
The bell curve effect in studies refers to data showing that no-to-limited consumption of alcohol can be inflammatory, and excessive drinking can also be inflammatory, but moderate alcohol consumption actually has anti-inflammatory effects.
The data shows these to be healthy ranges for alcohol intake daily in regard to inflammation:
- 1-2 glasses on a day or around seven drinks per week for women or those above 65,
- 2-3 glasses per day or more than fourteen glasses a week until of age 65 of men is considered to be within the safe limits
Guidelines when consuming alcohol
Aside from the number of drinks per day, here is more information you should consider when deciding on alcohol consumption for your body, situation, and long term health:
Enjoying alcohol with friends and family
Although the ‘bell curve effect’ seems to be a paradox for some in the scientific community, one suggestion is that it actually doesn’t have anything to do with the physical effects of alcohol.
It has been suggested that alcohol intake with friends and family and in social situations having a positive effect on health has more to do with the actual socialization factor. Being around people you love and care about is a really effective way to reduce stress, which could be the primary factor in moderate alcohol consumption having anti-inflammatory benefits.
Alcohol in a limited and controlled dose has been shown to trigger dopamine release and lift the mood. Although this tends to be the number one reason people generally partake in alcohol consumption, this can be a slippery slope leading to alcohol abuse, so it’s advised to take precautions when using alcohol for this purpose.
Healthiest Types of alcohol
Although there are particular guidelines available for specific conditions regarding alcohol use, these tend to be the least benign choices for alcohol:
- Red wine
I would like to point out that for the liquor options, drinking straight, on the rocks, or with unsweetened sparkling water (or club soda) is always the best option since cocktails frequently have high sugar content, which is highly inflammatory.
Counteracting the effects of alcohol
Even while drinking alcohol within Anti-Inflammatory Diet guidelines, you may want to do what you can otherwise to counteract the effects of alcohol.
As alcohol dehydrates, it is imperative to drink lots of water while consuming alcohol. The day after drinking alcohol it’s important, but it’s also imperative to keep hydrated while drinking alcohol as well.
One reason more people pay attention to this now is that dehydration plays a major part in the hangover feeling the next day.
A good rule of thumb to avoid this is to have one glass of water per alcoholic beverages.
Exercise (at least 20 minutes)
Although working out has been shown to reduce inflammation anyway, studies are also showing exercise has the ability to cancel out the effects of alcohol on the system.
Working out even for 20 minutes can increase metabolism by the liver of the compounds that can otherwise be oxidative.
Make healthy food choices
Make sure to eat healthy even during drinking alcohol or when you are going through a hangover. It’s all too easy to fall back into unhealthy habits from alcohol-induced poor choices in the moment.
This includes getting enough and quality protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
Drink soy milk to counteract a hangover
Interestingly, soy milk has been shown in studies to counteract a hangover. This is due to compounds called asparagines that bind to oxides formed from alcohol metabolism.
Options other than alcohol
Many people who have determined that alcohol has enough of an inflammatory effect on their bodies commonly begin to seek different alternatives to help ‘take the edge off’ after a long day, or even when socializing.
A wide range of more flexible and relatively healthy options can help you opt for a healthy lifestyle and excellent mental health, like:
- Supplements like valerian root, ashwaganda, or schizandra
- CBD oil
- Mocktails (sugar-free)
Although many forms and quantities of alcohol have been shown to have negative effects on the body, studies have also shown the bell curve paradox. This information allows for a few drinks per day (moderate alcohol consumption) as a benefit to healthy individuals, as long as no conditions are present in which the risk outweighs the benefit.
With that, I say, “Be responsible, know your body, and Cheers!”
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