Alcohol, like many other substances consumed by the mouth, travels the route of the gastrointestinal tract before being absorbed into the bloodstream.
In short, substances travel from the mouth (oral cavity) to the esophagus, into the stomach, then to the small intestine where nutrients are gathered, and lastly to the large intestine where much of leftover waste is compacted and ‘spat out’.
So, let’s take a look at the digestive tract, just to see what alcohol is doing to each, individual organ…
MOUTH & ESOPHAGUS
The mouth and esophagus are directly affected by alcohol, without any dilution process which makes the effects of alcohol worse.
Heavy drinking may experience mucosal injuries, such as lesions or sores. It can also damage salivary glands, causing decreased production of saliva.
Other inflammation may include the weakening of the esophagus, leading to increased acid reflux and heartburn. Or abnormal acid production.
It only takes a small dose of alcohol to alter the gastric acid secretion, induce acute gastric mucosal injury, and interfere with gastric and intestinal mobility.
When alcohol enters the stomach, it’s broken down with gastric acid and enzymes. The more we drink, the more we require gastric acid.
The body needs gastric acid to breakdown foods and fights bacteria from entering the small intestine, and alcohol can impact that process.
The small intestine is where most nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. Alcohol can affect the absorption of certain nutrients.
It can also disrupt the activity of some enzymes, which are responsible for functions throughout the small intestine.
Alcohol can cause mucosal injury to the intestine, as with stomach. As the intestine becomes more permeable, a person becomes more exposed to harmful toxins that enter the bloodstream and liver, leading to liver damage.
Many people who struggle with alcoholism, suffer from chronic diarrhea. Alcohol abuse can affect the time it takes for contents in the intestines to travel, therefore affecting the time for the large intestine to compact and remove waste.
These and other effects of alcohol may contribute to chronic diarrhea.
So, what’s the takeaway message from all of this?
Alcohol, although a pleasurable experience, can, in fact, aggravate pre-existing digestive problems, or contribute to the progression of something a little more chronic.
The silver lining is that light to moderate drinking can, in fact, stimulate gastric acids, which can stimulate digestive production in a positive way.
Next time, be more mindful of your boozing habits and check in with your body’s response to it.