How specific alcohols may impact your gut health
Many people all over the world enjoy kicking back with a drink or two. Generally, a glass of red wine is considered not harmful to your health. In the United States, nearly 60% of people report drinking in the past month. However, few of these people truly understand the effects of alcohol on the gut microbiome. Alcoholic beverages have their own unique effects on the gut microbiota. If you know anything about wine, you’ve probably heard that red wine health benefits may be able to help your heart and white wine has antioxidants. But have you ever thought about what else happens inside your gut while drinking a particular type of alcohol?
This is an important factor to consider when choosing your next drink during a night out (or in!). Microbes have an enormous impact on our overall health, so you should understand how the various alcoholic beverages out there affect the makeup of your gut microbiome. We’ll discuss how beer, wine, and hard liquor all interact with the microbiome. Cheers!
Beer is a lightly carbonated alcoholic beverage made by converting grain starches to sugars and fermenting them with yeast. The genus that is typically used in beer brewing is Saccharomyces (sugar fungus). The fermentation process creates the alcohols and carbon dioxide (the bubbles!) present in the beer.
It turns out that beer also contains special compounds called polyphenols. Commonly found in plants, including fruits, vegetables, cereals, and certain beverages, polyphenols are micronutrients with antioxidizing properties and other health benefits. Research has demonstrated that polyphenols found in beer affect the gut microbiome. Moderate consumption of beer has been shown to influence the relative abundance of specific gut bacteria. Two key players in particular are involved: the promotion of Bacteroidetes and the depletion of Firmicutes. This effect is believed to create positive health outcomes, as an overabundance of Firmicutes is associated with obesity.
But here’s the problem: researchers caution that chronic alcohol exposure can create gut dysbiosis, or imbalance, in the gut microbiome. In other words, heavy drinking can promote the abundance of harmful bacteria and decrease beneficial bacterial populations in the gut microbiome. This risk for gut dysbiosis may counteract any positive effects contributed by the polyphenols in beer.
Wine is fermented grape juice. Much like the process for beer brewing, the fermentation process in winemaking demands careful control of environmental parameters to ensure the fermentation of a high quality product. While white wine is made with white grapes, red wine is made with darker colored grapes. The fermentation process for red wine also includes all parts of the grape, including skins, seeds, and juice alike.
The beverage’s connection to the microbiome? While similar to beer, wine is even more chock full with polyphenols, the plant-based micronutrients that offer a multitude of health benefits. Research suggests that wine’s polyphenols may be connected to the positive effects on the microbiome associated with a moderate amount of wine consumption. Red wine in particular, which contains more polyphenols than other types of wine, is correlated with a greater microbiome boost.
How so? Red wine consumption is correlated with greater alpha diversity in the gut microbiome. Besides that, it also is correlated with an increase in the relative abundance of Barnesiella bacteria. In contrast, low levels of alpha diversity in the gut, dysbiosis, is linked to several health problems, chronic and acute, including obesity, Crohn’s Disease, allergy, and colon cancer. Researchers have also pinned down Barnesiella bacteria to confer defense against antibiotic-resistant Enterococcus colonization of the microbiome. While normally a beneficial bacterium, Enterococcus faecalis is a frequent cause of urinary tract infections, endocarditis, bacteremia, and wound infections, especially in hospital settings. A microbiome-centered defense against antibiotic-resistant bacteria is an enormous breakthrough towards a novel approach in preventing their spread, which can be a major challenge for vulnerable communities.
Hard liquor, also known as distilled spirits, includes gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, tequila, and brandy. Its fermentation process is similar to wine and beer, where sugars or starches are converted to alcohol with yeast. However, what makes hard liquor different is the distillation process at the end. Since alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, warming a mixture to alcohol’s boiling point (but keeping it below water’s) vaporizes pure alcohol. This distilled vapor can be captured, diluted to a certain proof, and flavored. The type of sugar or starch used also affects the type of hard liquor produced.
Moderate consumption of wine and non-alcoholic beer provides positive effects to the microbiome. However, hard liquor creates the opposite result—the beneficial bacteria that red wine promotes are depleted by proportional gin consumption of alcohol content by volume. In the same study, gin consumption also promoted the relative abundance of Clostridioides species. In excess, this bacteria is associated with negative health outcomes, including severe gastrointestinal problems and colon inflammation.
To be clear, alcohol consumption can negatively affect the microbiome, especially when in its high volume or frequent. However, certain drinks are better for you and your microfloral community than others: wine please! If you think yours may be out of balance, give Floré’s custom probiotics a try.