February 20, 2017
Anyone who drinks alcohol or has a taste for processed foods risks overindulging now and again. Imbibing in spirits can lead to unpleasant symptoms of a hangover, such as a banging headache, rolling stomach, and whole-body fatigue. Crawling out of bed can be downright unpleasant, especially for those who have somewhere to be the next day. Many an employee has called in sick, claiming they have contracted a stomach bug rather than confessing they have a bad case of “brown bottle flu.”
Ironically, the bacteria living in a person’s gut can actually affect how quickly someone recovers from an “overactive elbow.”
A number of factors contribute to the onset and severity of hangover symptoms. Alcohol is a diuretic that increases urination, for example, which leads to dehydration symptoms such as dry, sticky mouth, sleepiness, and headache. Overindulgence can cause fluctuations in electrolytes and blood sugar, which contributes to fatigue, nausea, and headache. Alcohol can also interfere with sleep, so most people sleep poorly and do not awaken feeling refreshed.
The human body breaks down alcohol into various components that contribute to symptoms of a hangover. The body breaks down alcohol first into acetaldehyde and then into acetate. While acetate is completely non-toxic, the intermediate product acetaldehyde triggers hangover symptoms.
Some people metabolize alcohol quickly, which means alcohol spends very little time as hangover-inducing acetaldehyde before it turns into harmless acetate. The process is slower in other people, so acetaldehyde hangs around longer causing a more severe hangover
Consuming alcohol is hard on the stomach. Alcohol irritates the stomach lining which can lead to increases in acid production, leading to gastritis and inflammation of the stomach lining.
One study shows that booze also alters gut bacteria in ways that increase the risk of alcohol-related issues. The result of this research shows that alcoholics have lower levels of three types of gut bacteria, Bifidobacteria, Lactobacilli, and Enterococci, as compared with people who do not drink. After taking probiotic supplements for only five days, however, the levels of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli rose among the drinkers.
Probiotic supplementation even improved liver enzymes, which tend to be high in cases of alcohol-induced liver inflammation. Lowered liver enzymes after supplementation with beneficial bacteria suggests taking probiotics can improve liver inflammation associated with drinking alcohol.
Drinking alcohol upsets the delicate balance between the digestive tract and the bacteria living there. Disrupting this balance can also allow unhealthy components of bacteria to enter the bloodstream through the digestive tract.
The cell walls of some “bad” or opportunistic-pathogen types of bacteria contain unhealthy endotoxins that can permeate the tight junctions in the gut lining and enter the bloodstream to cause problems in other parts of the body. Endotoxins can impair the immune system and cause the body to retrieve nutrients from muscles, and this can lead to muscle aches and a feeling of soreness during the hangover.
Another study shows the presence of endotoxins caused participants to perform poorly on a memory test. Exposing the gut to alcohol may promote the growth of “bad” bacteria, and therefore increases the risk of hangover symptoms after a night of drinking.
Alcohol interferes with many body systems to cause hangovers, but consuming alcohol causes special problems for the digestive tract and the bacteria that live there. A healthy gut with balanced bacteria may be better at dealing with the occasional overindulgence, so the key to avoiding hangovers is to achieve and maintain beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. One way to reduce the presence of “bad” bacteria and other unhealthy gut flora is to increase the presence of beneficial bacteria.
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