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How Dry January affects our health. The Microbiome & Alcohol

In 2023 once again, living a healthier life, tops people’s New Year's resolutions: 52 percent of Americans plan on exercising more, followed by eating healthier, losing weight and reducing stress on the job. [1]

In popular worldwide challenges like Dry January and Veganuary, hundreds of thousands of people tackle their resolutions together. For Dry Jan’s ten-year anniversary, we take a look at the impact that alcohol has on the body and microbiome, as well as the effects of an alcohol-free month.

(I wrote this article for and publish it here with kind permission of MyMicrobiome.)

How much alcohol is being consumed?

In 2019 per capita consumption of pure alcohol averaged 8.9 liters per year in the US, 4.4 liters in China and 10 liters in Europe. [2-3]

How does alcohol consumption affect the body?

Alcohol is a cell toxin that is carcinogenic in any quantity. Alcohol consumption is involved in the development of more than 200 diseases. Including cancers such as colon and liver cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, liver cirrhosis, weakening of the immune system, damaging of the brain and nervous system, depression, as well as skin rashes and infections. [3-6]

How does alcohol affect the microbiome?

Like antibiotics, an unhealthy diet, and stress, alcohol too alters the gut microbiome. [7] Alcohol-induced oxidative stress causes microbial dysbiosis (imbalance). Meaning, a change in the ratio of beneficial or "good" bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, and bad, pathogenic bacteria, such as Proteobacteria and Bacilli. This can lead to inflammation in the digestive tract, which can trigger leaky gut syndrome as well as changes in the immune system of the intestinal mucosa. [8]

The resulting hyperpermeability of the intestinal wall allows bacteria as well as endotoxins (bacterial byproducts) to enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body. They can migrate to the liver, other organs and tissues and trigger inflammatory processes (see alcoholic liver disease). [9]

Consumption of large amounts of alcohol also impairs the absorption of nutrients such as vitamins in the intestine. The oral microbiome is also affected: Studies found fewer Lactobacillales and a disturbed microbial balance in the mouths of people who drink alcohol. This can promote the development of periodontitis and caries. [10-12] Interestingly, the German Alcohol-Atlas cites the composition of the gut microbiome as a risk factor for alcohol dependence. [3]

All of this suggests, that interventions to improve the gut microbiome could be used to prevent and treat alcohol-related diseases. [13]

How much alcohol is ok?

In the renowned medical journal, THE LANCET, the authors of a meta-analysis conclude that “the level of consumption that minimises health loss is zero.” [14]

So, it's worth, giving being dry a try.

What are the health benefits of a Dry Month?

Without the alcohol-induced stress, the entire body, especially the gut microbiome and liver, is relieved and inflammation is decreased. Other benefits include increased energy, improved sleep, lower risk of alcohol-associated diseases, weight loss due to reduced caloric intake, better concentration, formation of new brain cells [15], and healthier skin [16].

If you drink little or no alcohol, you can choose another challenge such as Veganuary or a smoke-free month. Challenges are not limited to January and can be started or extended any time. However, doing them together with others is helpful. Try it for yourself and see how your body reacts!

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I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, Aha’s and questions in the comments below this blog.


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