Since alcohol is a well-known disinfectant, there's a belief that alcohol affects gut health by killing gut bacteria. While this is true to some extent, some alcoholic beverages can help promote gut health.
However, overdoing it with alcohol can lead to several health problems. This blog will explore what you need to know about gut bacteria, how alcohol affects gut bacteria, and which alcoholic beverages are safe for gut health.
What Is Gut Bacteria?
Gut bacteria are live microorganisms that reside in the gastrointestinal tract. They play a role in many aspects of health, including digestion, immunity, and metabolism.
There are two main types of gut bacteria:
The first type, commensal bacteria, lives in harmony with the host (in this case, you). In fact, these bacteria are essential for good health.
The second type, pathogenic bacteria, or harmful bacteria, can cause disease. Most of the bacteria in your gut are commensal, meaning they're beneficial. In fact, you need this bacteria for good gut health.
According to a PubMed Central journal, around 1000 known bacteria species are present in a healthy human's gut. However, the same journal states that a significant part of the gut microbiota is yet to be discovered.
Why Are Gut Bacteria Important?
Gut bacteria are essential for many reasons. A study by the National Library of Medicine about human gastrointestinal microbiota states that humans have a symbiotic relationship with gut bacteria. This means that both humans and gut bacteria benefit from each other.
Some of the benefits of gut bacteria include:
- Gut bacteria help digestion by breaking down food particles that the stomach and intestines can't.
Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes bacteria help digestion of dietary fiber and polyphenols by a complex metabolic energy-harvesting mechanism based on cross-feeding and co-metabolism, according to research about Impacts of Gut Bacteria on Human Health and Diseases.
- Gut bacteria help the immune system by fighting off harmful bacteria
The gut microbiota that resides in the digestive system benefits its host by maintaining immune homeostasis, as stated in the journal "The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity," published at NIH.
- Gut bacteria produce vitamins, including vitamin K and some B vitamins.
According to a peer-reviewed article published at NIH, Bacteroides, Bifidobacterium, and Enterococcus bacteria synthesize vitamins such as Vitamin K, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Folate, Biotin, and Pantothenic acid. These vitamins are essential for the overall health of our body.
Did You Know? There are a total of 13 vitamins that are important for your body. They improve metabolism, support immunity, and encourage a healthy lifestyle. Learn more about Vitamins, How They Work, And Their Sources.
What Is Dysbiosis?
According to PubMed Central's study of Dysbiosis Of The Gut Microbiota, Dysbiosis is an imbalance of gut bacteria. As discussed above, there are two different forms of gut flora (gut bacteria) – commensal (beneficial gut bacteria) and pathogenic (harmful bacteria).
Ideally, the number of good bacteria should be greater than that of harmful bacteria. However, this balance gets disturbed due to particular lifestyle and dietary choices, leading to dysbiosis. Many factors can contribute to dysbiosis, including:
- Processed foods
- Chronic stress
- Certain medications
What Happens When Gut Bacteria Are Killed?
When good gut bacteria are killed, it can lead to dysbiosis. Dysbiosis can cause many problems, including:
- Bad Breath
Most of the time, the body can effectively fight harmful bacteria and correct the issue. But sometimes, dysbiosis can lead to serious health conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular and central nervous system disorders, as stated in a study about Microbiome and Gut Dysbiosis published at NIH.
Does Alcohol Kill Gut Bacteria?
Alcohol, in particular, can kill gut bacteria at higher concentrations of 30 percent or more. According to CDC, ethyl alcohol (ethanol) and Isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol) have microbicidal properties that can kill bacteria such as Serratia marcescens, E. coli, and Salmonella, which is, in fact, gut flora.
This is not to say that you should drink alcohol to kill bacteria. Alcohol is, in fact, used only for disinfecting hard surfaces and is not recommended for use on humans as medicine. They are, however, used as sanitizers to decrease the risk of gastroenteric and respiratory infections, as stated in Alcohol Sanitizer published at NIH.
What Bacteria In The Gut Does Alcohol Kill?
As mentioned above, alcohol can kill both good and bad gut flora. Some of the good bacteria that are killed by alcohol include:
Some harmful bacteria for gut health that are killed by alcohol include:
- E. coli
Effective Alcohol Concentration That Can Kill Bacteria
Alcohol can work as an antibiotic, and it can kill both beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria. But, the concentration has to be high for it to work. A study about "Inhibition by ethanol of the growth of biofilm and dispersed microcosm dental plaques" confirms that for alcohol to inhibit the gut microbiome, it needs to be consumed in high concentrations of more than 40%.
An endoscopy study about "Action of pure ethanol and some alcoholic beverages on the gastric mucosa in healthy humans" states that higher concentrations of alcohol damage the stomach, causing mucosal lesions. The same study found that the more alcohol was present, the greater the stomach damage.
So, as you see, alcohol consumption doesn't help with bacterial infections but causes more harm to your gut health.
Chronic Alcohol Consumption Causes Serious Problems
Previously, we explained that drinking alcohol doesn't help with bacterial infections but can cause more harm to your gut health. But what if you are a heavy alcohol drinker?
According to a study published at NIH, "Chronic alcohol consumption is associated with dysbiosis of the gut microbiota." In other words, chronic alcohol consumption can cause a gut-bacterial imbalance.
The study found that chronic alcohol consumption alters the composition of the gut microbiota, leading to an increase in harmful bacteria and a decrease in beneficial bacteria. This can lead to many problems, such as:
- Leaky gut syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Cardiovascular and central nervous system disorders
- Alcohol dependence
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Gut Health?
Studies about Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation have shown that alcohol consumption promotes dysbiosis or an imbalance in gut flora. This can lead to increased levels of endotoxins, toxins released by certain types of bacteria. These toxins can activate proteins and immune cells that promote inflammation, leading to adverse health effects.
Other Harmful Effects of Alcohol
Aside from the effects on gut health, NHS's study Risks Of Alcohol Misuse states that alcohol consumption can also lead to many other problems, such as:
- Liver damage
- Cardiovascular disease
- Brain damage
- Sexual dysfunction
- Birth defects
- Fetal alcohol syndrome
So, as you see, alcohol consumption can have many adverse effects on your health, both short-term and long-term. It's essential to be aware of these effects and to drink alcohol in moderation.
Safe Alcoholic Beverages for Your Gut
If you choose to consume alcohol, some alcoholic beverages are safer for your gut than others. Several studies have proved that red wine can positively affect gut health.
Red wine is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation and improve gut health. In fact, one study found that red and white wine can help increase the level of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Red wine and white wine kill food-borne bacteria and promote beneficial bacteria growth.
Another study about the antibacterial effects of common beverages published at NIH confirms that beer and carbonated drinks have a negligible effect on killing harmful bacteria. However, the same study found that red wine had a more pronounced effect on gut bacteria.
So, if you prefer to drink alcohol, red wine is the best choice for gut health. White wine and beer are also safe choices, but they don't have the same gut-healthy benefits as red wine.
Furthermore, moderate consumption is key. If you drink too much alcohol, even red wine, it can have adverse effects on your gut health. So, it's vital to drink alcohol in moderation and to choose safe alcoholic beverages for your gut health.
What If You Are an Occasional Drinker?
Drinking alcohol on occasion will not kill your gut bacteria. In fact, occasional drinking can actually have some benefits for gut health.
A study by the National Library Of Medicine found that moderate alcohol consumption can help increase the level of good bacteria in the gut. The same study found moderate drinkers had a higher gut microbial biodiversity than non-drinkers.
By this, the study doesn't talk about daily drinkers but people who consume alcohol a few times a week or month.
If you are a daily drinker who consumes about two drinks per day (for women, one drink per day), we have bad news. Another study by the National Library Of Medicine found that drinking this amount daily can increase the odds of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). This is a condition where there is an imbalance of gut bacteria and can lead to many problems, such as:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Malabsorption of nutrients
- Brain fog
So, if you are an occasional drinker, there is no need to worry about the effects of alcohol on your gut health. But, if you are a daily drinker, you may want to consider cutting back on your alcohol consumption.
Even if you are a moderate drinker, it's essential to be aware of the other harmful effects of alcohol and to drink alcohol in moderation.
Tip: If you are a moderate drinker, you can improve your gut health by taking probiotics and eating a healthy diet. To learn more about supplements that improve your gut health, read The Best Supplements For Gut Health.
Bottom Line: Does Alcohol Kill Gut Bacteria?
Yes, alcohol can kill gut bacteria and harm your overall digestive health. However, it depends on how much alcohol you consume. If you are a moderate drinker, there is no need to worry about the effects of alcohol on your gut health. But, if you are a heavy alcoholic, you may want to consider cutting back on your alcohol consumption.
So, moderate drinkers, enjoy your occasional glass of red wine. Just be sure to drink alcohol in moderation and to choose safe alcoholic beverages for your gut health. And, if you are a heavy drinker, it's time to consider cutting back on your alcohol consumption for your overall health.
Does Drinking Alcohol Kill Germs In Throat?
It is possible that alcohol can kill germs in the throat, but it is not advisable to use it as a regular disinfectant to treat tummy bugs or throat infections. Alcohol is a harsh chemical that can damage the gut lining, making the body more susceptible to infection. There are many alternative options available that are safer and more effective.
Does Whiskey Kill Gut Bacteria?
Whiskey has high concentrations of alcohol, about 40% to 50%, which can kill bacteria. This makes Whiskey a great choice for disinfecting wounds and cleaning surfaces. However, it is not recommended for drinking as it can damage the gut lining and lead to gut infections.
Does Drinking Alcohol Kill Viruses?
There is no solid proof that drinking alcohol can kill viruses. In fact, drinking alcohol may actually make you more susceptible to viral infections. This is due to the fact that alcohol can suppress your immune system, making it more difficult for your body to fight infection. So, if you're looking for a way to protect yourself from viral infections, don't drink alcohol.