Many people enjoy an occasional glass of wine in the evening, or drinks after work. And there’s lots to be said for relaxing, lowering emotional stress levels, and building health-affirming social connections. All of these are good things, but alcohol could be damaging your health in other ways.
In the short term, alcohol has been shown to weaken the immune system, intensify mood swings, prevent restful sleep, and lower energy levels. If you’re already suffering from an energy-sapping digestive condition like Candida overgrowth, that’s the last thing you need.
One of the most difficult parts of switching to a Candida diet is often giving up alcohol. This is a necessary change if you want to give your gut bacteria and digestive system the very best chance to get back into a healthy equilibrium. However, it doesn’t have to be forever. Once you get your health back and see your energy levels return, small amounts of alcohol are OK as part of a low-sugar, balanced diet.
1. Alcohol weakens your immune system
An optimally functioning immune system is necessary to keep pathogens like Candida albicans in check. Without the various components of your immune system (white blood cells, antibodies, your gut bacteria etc), opportunistic microorganisms can quickly get out of control. Drinking alcohol can weaken your immune system’s response to these threats.
A recent study at the University of Maryland measured the effects of vodka on the immune system. After drinking the vodka, participants were tested for levels of three different types of white blood cells — leukocytes, monocytes and natural killer cells.
Interestingly, the study showed that drinking alcohol caused an immediate rise in immune system activity. Twenty minutes after ‘peak intoxication,’ levels of all three immune cells were higher.
However, this effect was quickly reversed. At the 2 hour and 5 hour stage, the levels of white blood cells were significantly lower, signaling a weaker immune system.
2. Alcohol can overload your liver
Your liver is one of your primary defenses against the symptoms of Candida. It is responsible for processing and eliminating numerous toxins from your body. These include the metabolic byproducts of Candida albicans (acetaldehyde, uric acid, ammonia, etc).
Your liver might be working hard already, preventing toxins like these from causing fatigue, headaches, and more. For example, acetaldehyde is known to be a powerful neurotoxin and a carcinogen. If it’s not processed efficiently by the liver, it can cause chronic headaches and brain fog.
Drinking alcohol has been shown to weaken liver function and prevent your liver from operating effectively. Funnily enough, when alcohol is first processed by the liver it turns into acetaldehyde. Then, another chemical reaction turns it into a relatively harmless compound named acetate. The acetate leaves your liver and is broken down into carbon dioxide and water.
As you can see, the combination of Candida overgrowth and alcohol can significantly increase the load on your liver. And if your liver starts to run out of the building blocks needed to process acetaldehyde and other toxins, more of those toxins will remain unprocessed and circulating in your body.
3. Alcohol affects your mood
When you are already dealing with fatigue, irritability and potentially depression from gut dysbiosis and the various Candida byproducts, drinking alcohol is like adding fuel to a fire.
The effects of alcohol are deceptive. At first it seems to improve your mood, but alcohol is known to intensify mood swings and depression. The reason is that alcohol changes your brain chemistry. Drinking alcohol regularly actually lowers the level of serotonin — an important chemical that affects your mood. In the long run, this can lead to anxiety, stress and a low mood.
4. Alcohol can wreck your sleep
Do you ever have a few glasses of wine, then wake up at 3am and struggle to fall back to sleep? While alcohol might initially help you fall asleep but then it disrupts the REM cycle responsible for that restorative sleep that makes you wake up feeling refreshed and well rested.
At night, your body is supposed to switch off the Sympathetic Nervous System (the ‘fight or flight’ system) and engage the Parasympathetic Nervous System (the ‘rest and digest’ system). Unfortunately, drinking too much alcohol will stop your body from doing this. After the sleep-promoting effects of the alcohol dissipate, your SNS kicks in and quickly wakes you up. Then, you’re feeling too ‘wired’ to go to sleep and you spend the rest of the day exhausted.
Good, restful sleep is one of the most important gifts you can give yourself. It will help your immune system, your longevity, and your mood. Don’t ruin it by drinking alcohol before bed!
5. Alcohol zaps your energy
Poor sleep leads us nicely on to the next item in this list — low energy levels. Chances are, one of the main reasons you are reading this article is that you’re ‘tired of being tired’. In fact, sometimes you might end up reaching for that glass of wine just to get yourself through an energy-sapping social event.
While it may seem that alcohol helps in the short term, there are better solutions. In the long run, alcohol will negatively affect your energy levels and leave you feeling even more tired.
If you ever feel like your energy levels are low and you need something to lift you up quickly, try doing some exercise. Drinking a large glass of water can have a surprisingly energizing effect. And there’s nothing wrong with taking a quick 20 minute nap in the afternoon!
6. Alcohol puts more stress on your adrenal glands
Your liver isn’t the only organ that gets stressed out by alcohol consumption. The adrenal glands, those small organs located on top of your kidneys, can also be overloaded if you’re not careful.
We normally think about the adrenal glands (or more correctly the HPA Axis) getting fatigued or overworked during times of chronic emotional stress. But this is far from the only kind of stress that we experience. Chronic conditions like asthma, arthritis, candida, or simple allergies can all put stress on your adrenals and neuroendocrine system.
When you drink lots of alcohol, it tends to reduce your blood glucose levels. As your blood sugar drops, the adrenals are instructed to produce a hormone named cortisol. Among other things, this stress hormone raises your blood sugar back to normal levels.
Healthy adrenals are key in maintaining a healthy immune system, controlling inflammation, and defending the body from a candida overgrowth. Alcohol ‘drains’ the adrenal glands and the HPA Axis by dysregulating your blood glucose, and forcing the adrenals to produce extra hormones. Quitting alcohol will give your adrenal glands a break and help you get your energy levels back to normal.
7. Alcohol destabilizes blood sugar
This was already mentioned in the last point, but it deserves to be explored in more depth. Depending on what kinds of alcohol your drink and what your physiology is, alcohol can have different effects on your blood sugar.
For example, diabetics need to be very careful what they drink because alcohol can send their blood glucose dangerously low. On the other hand, drinks like beer, wine and cocktails do contain significant amounts of sugar, and can raise blood glucose in the short term.
Neither of these are a good result for someone suffering from a Candida overgrowth. High blood glucose can help to change the balance of bacteria in your intestines and encourage pathogens like Candida to proliferate. Low blood sugar can lead to food cravings and unfortunate dietary choices like late night snacking. Not to mention that these rapid changes in blood glucose can rapidly deplete the adrenals and HPA Axis.
Is alcohol contributing to your Candida Related Complex? As you can see above, alcohol can have numerous negative effects on your body. It reduces your body’s capability to prevent a Candida overgrowth, and prevents it from dealing with the byproducts that lead to its symptoms.
If you are suffering from Candida overgrowth, consider following an anti-Candida diet plan that incorporates probiotics, antifungals, and a healthy balanced diet. Stay off the alcohol for now, and remember that it won’t be forever!