Ask The GI

Alcohol & Gut Health: How Much Should I (Or Shouldn’t I) Drink?

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I really enjoy having a drink in the evenings, but I’ve seen a lot of new information about alcohol and its detrimental health effects when consumed at any level. How much should I (or shouldn’t I) drink, and if it’s okay to drink in moderation, what form of alcohol should I choose?  -Adam

Dr. Chutkan: Adam, I recommend not exceeding 10 alcoholic beverage servings throughout the week (not all in one sitting!) for men, and 5 for women. So what exactly is a serving size? – a glass of wine to you may be ¼ cup, while a glass of wine to your neighbor may mean 1 cup. According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended alcoholic beverage serving sizes are as follows:

  • Liquor (80 proof): 1.5 fluid oz
  • Wine: 5 fluid oz
  • Beer (regular ~5% alcohol)): 12 fluid oz
  • Beer (malt ~7% alcohol): 8-9 fluid oz

When it comes to the gut and microbial health, not all alcohol is created equal. Studies show that alcohol in excessive amounts (exceeding 10 drinks weekly) has a detrimental affect on the microbiome and the digestive system as a whole. Yet, some studies show that moderate consumption of red wine, may actually encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria. 

There’s a strong association between alcohol consumption and several different digestive tract cancers, including esophageal, liver, pancreatic, and colon cancer. And the risk increases the more you drink, so if you have significant risk factors for cancer, abstinence may be a really good idea. Similarly, if you’re experiencing general digestive upset (bloating, gas, or abdominal pain), suffer from a digestive condition or disease, and/or have microbial imbalance, I recommend avoiding alcohol altogether for a period of time, until your symptoms improve. If you have a healthy gut (and your bowel movements agree), consume alcohol in moderation and choose red wine when possible.

The information on this website is for informational or educational purposes only, and is not intended as a substitute for the advice of your healthcare professional or physician. All readers should consult with their healthcare provider before beginning any new medical, dietary, or lifestyle programs. 

Robynne Chutkan, MD, FASGE, is the founder of Gutbliss Rx. She is an integrative gastroenterologist and the bestselling author of Gutbliss, The Microbiome Solution, and The Bloat Cure. Educated at Yale and Columbia, she’s been on the faculty at Georgetown University Hospital since 1997 and is the founder of the Digestive Center for Wellness, an integrative gastroenterology practice incorporating microbiome analysis and nutritional counseling as part of the therapeutic approach to digestive disorders. An avid runner, snowboarder, and yogi, she is passionate about helping her patients live not just longer lives, but dirtier ones!

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