Those wrapping up a dry January may have noticed some significant changes to their overall health. When you stop drinking, your skin gets better, your sleep quality improves, and your energy levels increase. You may also notice improved digestion. The connection between alcohol and gut health is strong, says Niket Sonpal, MD, a New York-based internist and gastroenterologist.
As much fun as alcohol may be, it does have its share of negative health effects, especially for the stomach and the esophagus,” says Dr. Sonpal. Large quantities of alcohol can lead to gastritis, or stomach inflammation, which causes heartburn, acid reflux, and sometimes long-term esophageal damage. “Once it leaves the stomach and it gets metabolized, it hits the small intestine.” There, says Dr. Sonpal, alcohol can damage the lining known as the villi, making it harder for you to absorb certain nutrients while at the same time killing off both good and bad bacteria. “The bad bacteria tend to grow more and so we ended up getting a mismatch of the microbiome as well.” Finally, alcohol causes dehydration, which can lead to constipation.
Fortunately, all of these issues can be reversed by setting aside that glass of wine for a while.
“The stomach is a resilient organ that bounces back pretty quickly,” says Dr. Sonpal. “Gastritis should heal in a few weeks. If you have an ulcer, alcohol prevents the healing of ulcers, so it’ll help with that, too. In a few weeks to months, the villi of the small intestine should improve.” After a few weeks of supplementation with pre- and probiotics, your gut microbiome should also bounce back. Of course, if you believe you’re dealing with a serious gastrointestinal issue, consult your primary physician.
If you replaced your alcohol consumption with healthier alternatives, you’ll start to see the benefits in a few short weeks.
Kara Jillian Brown is the news writer at Well+Good. Everyone’s relationship with wellness and self-care is different, and she seeks to honour that within her work. She covers everything from hair care and fitness to systemic inequalities within health and wellness. She received her MA in journalism from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. She is also a certified fitness instructor and teaches barre in New York City.