There are plenty of occasions that call for your alcoholic drink of choice: happy hour after work, celebrating a friend’s success, toasting to the beginning of your marriage (or vacation), and well, just because you want one. Occasional boozing—particularly a glass of red wine—doesn’t impact your health negatively. However, frequent and excessive alcohol consumption can wreak havoc on our body’s most precious organs, including our heart and our digestive system. Some drinking habits can lead to chronic inflammation that’s not only uncomfortable but can have long-lasting effects. If you’re routinely doing any of these things, consider this your gentle nudge to cut back ASAP. Then, be sure to check out our list of the 112 Most Popular Sodas Ranked by How Toxic They Are.
Celebrity chef and certified nutritionist Serena Poon puts it simply: drinking alcohol in excess is a major cause of inflammation throughout the body. The tricky part is figuring out what “excess” means exactly.
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women are advised to have one drink per day, while men can have two.
“Anything beyond these recommendations might lead to inflammation and other health concerns,” she explains. “Consuming alcohol in excess can also disturb the digestive system and gut microbiome leading to an increase in the inflammatory effects.”
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Sure, technically speaking, the CDC says one (for women) and two (for men) drinks a day is a-okay—but Poon says it’s not a smart wellness habit to practice. How come? You are likely to experience ongoing inflammation internally—and externally, with a puffy and red face.
We naturally have ebbs-and-flows in our social calendars, so we drink some weeks (or months) more often than usual. For most people, this is typically in the summer or around the holiday season. Whenever you’re coming out of a particularly heavy drinking time, Poon recommends taking an alcohol detox.
“There are multiple benefits to giving up alcohol for a few days or longer, including relieving inflammation,” she shares. “Fasting, in general, is a wonderful tool for decreasing inflammation.”
When you’ve been out for a fun night on the town, and the last call just passed, do you suddenly start craving french fries? Or pizza? Or anything carb and fat-heavy? Most folks do, but the combination of not-so-nutritious foods and alcohol are major contributors to inflammation, Poon reminds.
“Combine moderate alcohol consumption with a diet that is rich in anti-inflammatory foods,” she recommends. “Items that help combat inflammation include vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids. Fill your plate with a rainbow of fresh plant-based foods, and you will be on a good track towards optimal health.”
Here are 26 Best Omega-3 Foods to Fight Inflammation and Support Heart Health.
While many people have a beer or a glass of wine, few drink hard liquor on its own. Instead, it’s common to mix tequila, vodka, gin, or another stiff one with mixers, like soda, juices, and so on. However, this increases the sugar content (and psst: alcohol is already sugar), which Poon says created inflammation.
“Common culprits of added sugar in cocktails include sodas, fruit juices, and simple syrup,” she says. “You can ask your bartender what is in your drink and make a different choice when you hear one of these ingredients.”
Her top recommendations for drinks with less sugar include sticking to red wine or high-quality clear liquors, like tequila, mezcal, or vodka on the rocks or mixed with soda water and or fresh citrus juice to avoid sugar overconsumption. Or try one of these 9 Healthiest Cocktails You Can Make at Home.
If you’re spending more time throwing one back than hitting up the gym, you’re going to experience inflammation big time. In fact, Poon says just 20 minutes of exercise can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body and can counteract some of the effects of alcohol.
“Regular exercise lays the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity has numerous health benefits, including having anti-inflammatory properties,” she says. “The CDC recommends that most adults engage in moderate physical activity for 150 minutes and partake in two days of muscle-strengthening exercises each week.”
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