Partaking in the Christmas Spirit
December is the month that most of us traditionally increase our alcohol intake....its part of the Christmas spirt......either literally or figuratively! Yet, many of us forget that it can have delayed health consequences beyond the next day hangover. But without being a party-pooper, you can still enjoy your favourite tipple as well as partaking in the Christmas fun with some simple hacks that will keep you going throughout the festive period.
Effects of Alcohol on the Immune System
The first affects of alcohol drinking are felt in your gastro-intestinal (GI) tract, where alcohol is absorbed into your blood. Here, it can disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria by reducing both the diversity and number of good gut bacteria, as well as damage some of your immune cells. Around 80% of your immune cells are located in your gut - this is your first line of defence against incoming pathogens from food or water. Your good gut bacteria interact with your immune cells to promote a strong immune defence, yet alcohol disrupts this connection, lowering your immunity. As it also damages the gut wall, this can allow bacteria and other molecules from your gut though the damaged wall into your liver, thereby triggering inflammation and setting the scene for damage to your liver......... which is what alcohol is typically associated with. And to add the cherry on top, alcohol can also cause damage in your airways by reducing your ability to clear mucous from your lungs, which is how your body clears infections. Hence, this reduces your immunity in your airways, which can lead to infections and inflammation in your lungs and chest.
In a nutsell, alcohol can reduce your immune defences in your two main defensive pathways - your gut and your airways. This translates into increased susceptibility to bacterial and viral infections, as well as other pathogens. And January is usually the time when you have to "pay the piper" for your December over-indulgence. But it doesn't have to be that way. Instigating some very simple practices throughout this period can help minimise any damage caused by alcohol and keep you fighting fit throughout the festive period.
Top 3 Tips
So what can you do to negate the damage whilst still being able to partake in the Christmas fun? Here are my top 3 tips that you can do to help:
Reduce the rate of alcohol absorption - Don't drink on an empty stomach. Food in your stomach will slow down the absorption rate.
Hydrate between alcoholic drinks - drink water or a soft drink. Lots of good mocktails around now. But even a simple soda water with fresh lime.
Help your body better eliminate the alcohol - vitamin C can help protect your liver, improve alcohol clearance and reduce inflammation caused by the alcohol. Add fresh limes or lemons to your drinks. Take a vitamin C supplement after drinking or the next morning. And drink some fresh orange or grapefruit juice the following morning.
These simple tips can help you better navigate the festive period without being struck down by a "bug" or worrying that you'll be ill in January.
Wishing you all a very merry and healthful Christmas period.
Sarkar D, Jung MK, Wang HJ. Alcohol and the Immune System. Alcohol Res. 2015;37(2):153–5. PMCID: PMC4590612.