The festive period and Christmas Day in particular is a particularly boozy time of year for Brits, from popping open a bottle of Prosecco in the morning, to sipping on mulled wine in the afternoon, to having a glass of Baileys as a nightcap while watching Love Actually for the umpteenth time.
Yet, a new survey has found that more than a third (35%) of people are planning to stay sober this Christmas, with 22% saying they drink less now than this time last year.
The research from Forbes Advisor found that the younger generations are more likely to go teetotal, with nearly one in five (19%) of 18 to 34-year-olds saying they have never drunk alcohol. A further 24% said that while they drank alcohol in the past, they would now consider themselves teetotal.
Some of the main reasons why Brits are cutting down on their alcohol consumption include wanting to enhance their physical health (46%), save money (44%), and protect their mental health (20%).
Going sober can have several health benefits, from physical to mental, but it can also have a beneficial impact on your gut health.
What is gut health?
First thing’s first: What is gut heath? The term has become buzzy in the wellness industry over the past few years, and includes everything from digestion of food to the balance and diversity of our gut microbiome, or bacteria.
"This microbiome influences not only our digestion but extends its reach to our immune system, mental health, and even chronic disease risk," Dr Joseph Ambani explains.
"A healthy gut is akin to a well-tuned orchestra, where each microbe plays its part in harmony, maintaining our body’s equilibrium."
How can alcohol affect gut health?
Dr Ambani says the link between gut health and alcohol is ‘multifaceted and profound’.
"Alcohol, especially when consumed excessively, can be a formidable disruptor of gut harmony. It can alter the composition and diversity of the gut microbiome, often leading to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and a decrease in beneficial ones," he explains.
"This dysbiosis can trigger inflammation, a root cause of many gut-related disorders."
He adds that alcohol can also impair the gut barrier function, which can lead to ‘leaky gut ‘ - a syndrome that allows toxins and bacteria to enter the bloodstream and lead to systemic inflammation.
"Additionally, alcohol can disrupt the delicate balance of gastric acids and digestive enzymes, impacting nutrient absorption and leading to deficiencies," he says. "It's a cascading effect, where one imbalance leads to another, echoing throughout the body's systems."
Benefits of sobriety on gut health
Sobriety can be a ‘transformative’ experience for your gut, Dr Ambani says, adding that stopping alcohol consumption completely can lead to a "remarkable recovering and rebalancing of the gut microbiome".
"This shift can decrease inflammation, bolster the gut barrier, and improve overall digestive function," he adds.
"Patients often report a significant decrease in gastrointestinal discomforts such as bloating, indigestion, and irregular bowel movements. The ripple effect of these changes is profound – improved nutrient absorption can lead to better overall health, enhanced immune function, and even improvements in mental health due to the gut-brain axis."
Dr Ambani says that a sober gut is also more resilient, and better equipped to handle other everyday stressors such as dietary stressors, environmental, and even psychological.
How long after quitting alcohol does it take to see gut health benefits?
As with starting anything new, it’s best to be patient if you’re hoping to feel better after quitting booze.
Dr Ambani says that it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to notice initial improvements such as digestive comfort and a reduction in bloating, but that it can take a few months or even a year for the gut microbiome to completely rebalance.
"This process is influenced by factors such as the duration and intensity of prior alcohol consumption, individual microbiome composition, diet, lifestyle, and overall health," he explains.
"It's essential to approach this healing journey with patience and an understanding that the gut is an ecosystem that thrives on gradual, consistent care. I often advise patients to support this process with a balanced diet rich in prebiotics and probiotics, adequate hydration, regular exercise, and stress management techniques. The path to gut health recovery is not just about removing alcohol; it's about embracing a lifestyle that nurtures and respects this complex and vital part of our body."
If you feel like you may have a dependency on alcohol, you should see your GP or a medical professional as you may experience withdrawal symptoms like being irritable, shaky or tired.
You can also use Drinkaware’s Drinkchat, which is a free online chat service with trained advisors available from 9am to 2pm on weekdays here.
Sober living: Read more
Tamzin Outhwaite credits health to being 'sober curious' - but what does it mean? (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)
'I gave up drinking alcohol in my 20's, hangxiety took over my life' (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)
How drinking alcohol affects your body and mind (Yahoo Life UK, 6-min read)