I spent the last two weeks in the Viennese Alps, then took a train to Prague, and then to Vienna. When I travel, I often entertain the idea of going back to school. There is always some food or health difference that gets me thinking about different approaches to wellness in different countries.
This time the topic that piqued my interest was the copious amount of beer that is consumed by people in Prague during seemingly all hours of the day. This was interesting to me for a few reasons. The first is that there is an increasing awareness of the relationship between certain cancers and alcohol use. Second, alcohol can play a role in gut health and disease. And lastly, I simply can't imagine drinking beer like water, as our tour guide did on the 2.5 hour canoe tour around the city.
While I can't judge or evaluate the Czech relationship with beer without more evidence or statistics, I can share with you some of the evidence around regular alcohol consumption and the gastrointestinal system. Here are a few thoughts on alcohol:
Research shows that alcohol damages the mucosal tissue of the gut and contributes to increased/hyper gastrointestinal permeability (GP). GP is when the tight junctions that make up the intestinal barrier separate. The body obviously doesn't want this (what happens in the gut lumen should stay there, ideally), so it increases the immune response by increasing the presence of immune mediators to the site. The layers of mucosal tissue that surround the lumen of the gut mimic other layers of mucosal tissues in the body and this can initiate immune responses in other regions far from the gut. Examples of this would be allergies and atopic conditions. Additionally, translocation of endotoxins and gram-negative bacteria shows that what happens in a leaky gut doesn't stay there. Endotoxin presence correlates with certain diseases. This is GP in a nutshell. A tiny nutshell.
Several things can influence GP. Research has shown that individuals with alterations to tight junction genes have an increased incidence of IBS. Stress, food sensitivities and allergies, endurance exercise, medications, and gut dysbiosis may all play a role in GP.
Here are a few things that I do for myself to promote a healthy intestinal barrier:
- Avoid regular alcohol consumption.
- Consume a diet rich in prebiotic fibers. These are found in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. A few of my favorites are leeks, onions, and legumes.
- Avoid ultra-processed foods. These do little to nourish the gut and often contain compounds that may compromise gut health.
The gut plays a key role in mediating what happens in the outside world and our inside world. If you'd like to read more on this topic, I recommend the book Gut:The Inside Story by Dr Guilia Enders.