If you’re health-conscious—but still love a glass of wine with dinner, a beer or two on the weekend, or a nice long happy hour with coworkers—you’ve probably wondered how drinking affects your inflammation levels.
Inflammation is, after all, the main underlying factor in most chronic diseases. In fact, it’s such a big deal that it’s the topic of my new book, The Inflammation Spectrum, and a frequent topic of conversation during my patient consultations.
How bad is alcohol, really?
We all know that chronic heavy alcohol use and alcohol use disorders are bad for our health. When alcohol intake becomes severe, it can lead to an increased risk for liver disease, cancer, diabetes, neurological complications, bone damage, and many more inflammation-related conditions, according to the Mayo Clinic. (1)
But what about moderate drinking or a drink every now and again?
The research on alcohol intake is very mixed. Some studies show that even very small amounts of alcohol can increase your risk for certain illnesses. For example, a study (2) published by the American Institute for Cancer Research showed that just one drink a day could increase a person’s risk for breast cancer. Another study, (3) published in the British Medical Journal, also showed that even moderate amounts of alcohol can affect your memory.
Meanwhile, other studies—like this one published (4) in 2015—say that mild or moderate amounts of certain types of alcohol could actually be beneficial to your health. Moderate alcohol consumption is typically defined as up to one drink per day for women and two drinks a day for men.
How alcohol affects inflammation
When it comes to inflammation, the research is also a bit mixed. For example, a study (5) published in the journal Alcohol & Alcoholism showed that levels of the inflammatory C-reactive protein were higher in people who consumed alcohol. Other studies have shown that alcohol increases levels (6) of the endotoxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in the gut, which is known for inducing inflammation. Finally, people who drink can also develop leaky gut, which can drive widespread inflammation in the body and brain. (7)
On the flip side, certain types of alcohol—mainly red wine—have actually displayed anti-inflammatory properties due to its high concentration of polyphenols (8) such as resveratrol. Doctors often tell their patients that moderate alcohol consumption is A-okay. As Karen Costenbader, M.D., MPH, a rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston told the arthritis foundation: “Moderate alcohol consumption…reduces biomarkers of inflammation, including c-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and TNF-alpha receptor 2.”
Confusing, isn’t it?
My thoughts on alcohol consumption and health
If you do consume alcohol, portions matter. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a standard drink is defined as the following: (9)
- 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of regular beer
- 8 to 9 ounces (237 to 266 milliliters) of malt liquor
- 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of unfortified wine
- 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof hard liquor
The type of alcohol you reach for matters, too. The least inflammatory options are hard cider, tequila, brandy, cognac, rum, and red wine because they are grain-free.
In my practice, I recommend that my patients treat alcohol like sugar. In other words, it’s a treat—which is meant to be consumed only occasionally and in true moderation. The way I see it, there’s no doubt that alcohol can be inflammatory, mostly due to the burden that it puts on your GI tract and liver, which houses your body’s detoxification system. Not to mention, alcohol can affect your blood sugar, cause poor sleep, and lead you to indulge in processed and sugar-filled foods; foods that no-doubt contribute to inflammation.
I feel that limiting alcohol intake as much as possible is the safest approach. I often see patients who do everything “right” but still have issues with their gut, mood, anxiety levels, and inflammation levels. Oftentimes, eliminating those few drinks on the weekend or glass of wine at night is the answer.
If you think alcohol might be contributing to chronic inflammation in your body, try going alcohol-free for one month, replacing your favorite drinks with mocktails and adaptogenic elixirs. A study (10) from the University of Sussex showed that people who participated in “Dry January” reported improvements in their health and their relationship with booze. More specifically:
- 71% slept better;
- 67% had more energy;
- 58% lost weight;
- 57% had better concentration;
- 54% had better skin.
Who knows, cutting down on the booze could end up benefiting your health in more ways than one.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer webcam as well as in-person consultations for people across the country and around the world.
- Alcohol use disorder. (2018, July 11). Retrieved October 29, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243.
- New Report: Just One Alcoholic Drink a Day Increases Breast Cancer Risk. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2019, from https://www.aicr.org/press/press-releases/2017/new-report-breast-cancer-alcohol-exercise.html.
- Topiwala, Anya, Charlotte L. Allan, Vyara Valkanova, Enikő Zsoldos, Nicola Filippini, Claire Sexton, Abda Mahmood, et al. “Moderate Alcohol Consumption as Risk Factor for Adverse Brain Outcomes and Cognitive Decline: Longitudinal Cohort Study.” BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.) 357 (June 6, 2017): j2353. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j2353.
- Fehér, János, Gabriella Lengyel, and Andrea Lugasi. “[Cultural history of wine, the theoretical background of wine therapy].” Orvosi Hetilap 146, no. 52 (December 25, 2005): 2635–39.
- Oliveira, Andreia, Fernando Rodríguez-Artalejo, and Carla Lopes. “Alcohol Intake and Systemic Markers of Inflammation–Shape of the Association according to Sex and Body Mass Index.” Alcohol and Alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire) 45, no. 2 (April 2010): 119–25. https://doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/agp092.
- Bala, Shashi, Miguel Marcos, Arijeet Gattu, Donna Catalano, and Gyongyi Szabo. “Acute Binge Drinking Increases Serum Endotoxin and Bacterial DNA Levels in Healthy Individuals.” PLoS ONE 9, no. 5 (May 14, 2014). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0096864.
- Bjarnason, I., T. J. Peters, and R. J. Wise. “The Leaky Gut of Alcoholism: Possible Route of Entry for Toxic Compounds.” Lancet (London, England) 1, no. 8370 (January 28, 1984): 179–82. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0140-6736(84)92109-3.
- The truth about red wine and heart health. (2019, October 22). Retrieved October 28, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/red-wine/art-20048281.
- What Is A Standard Drink? (2019, October 9). Retrieved October 28, 2019, from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/what-standard-drink.
- de Visser, Richard O, Robinson, Emily and Bond, Rod (2016) Voluntary temporary abstinence from alcohol during “Dry January” and subsequent alcohol use. Health Psychology, 35 (3). pp. 281-289. ISSN 0278-6133
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