Alcohol Inflammation Causes Explained & How to Reduce | Monument (2022)

It is well-known that drinking alcohol can significantly affect your physical and mental health. What many people aren’t aware of is that the driving force behind many of these side effects can be traced back to alcohol-induced inflammation. Learning more about the connection between alcohol and inflammation can help you better understand the role alcohol is playing in your life, and how to find relief.

Chronic Inflammation & Alcohol: An Introduction


What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is a natural response the body uses to fight off potential harm. When a harmful intruder is introduced, through infection, injury, or ingesting a toxin, the body releases chemicals that trigger an inflammatory response from your immune system in an attempt to get rid of it. Visible signs of inflammation include swelling, redness, pain, and warmth.

When inflammatory cells are successful at eliminating a harmful intruder, the inflammation process resolves itself. However, when someone is exposed to a harmful intruder for a longer period of time, the inflammatory response can become chronic. The inflammatory cells that were signaled to kill off potential harm stay active, and eventually start damaging healthy cells, tissue, and organs.

How and Why Does Alcohol Cause Inflammation?

Alcohol is a toxin that can cause damage at the cellular, tissue, and organ levels. Consuming alcohol can trigger inflammation across the entire body, including in the gut, liver, face, joints, and brain. Alcohol can cause two types of inflammation: acute inflammation and chronic inflammation.

Acute inflammation

Acute alcohol-induced inflammation describes the body’s immediate inflammatory response when alcohol is consumed. This often results in hangover symptoms like headaches and nausea. Some other acute inflammation side effects include dehydration, face puffiness, inflamed stomach lining, and swollen feet. Typically these symptoms can resolve themselves within a few days after drinking.

Chronic inflammation

Chronic inflammation occurs when unhealthy alcohol use triggers various reactions in the body that cause inflammation to intensify over time instead of resolve. In the gut, for example, alcohol can cause an overgrowth of bacteria. This overgrowth creates an increase in bacterial waste products including endotoxins. Endotoxins are chemicals that activate the proteins and immune cells that promote inflammation. With more endotoxin production, inflammation worsens instead of improving.

Another reason alcohol use can lead to chronic inflammation is because of a protein called C-reactive protein. A study from the University of Porto found that higher amounts of alcohol in the body led to higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). The liver makes more CRP when it becomes inflamed. The more CRP present in the blood, the more inflammation spreads into the whole body.¹This positive feedback cycle is indicative of chronic inflammation.

Effects of Alcohol-Induced Inflammation

Alcohol-induced inflammation causes changes in the entire body and puts you at greater risk for various health conditions. While the effects of alcohol-induced inflammation can be disconcerting, changing your relationship with alcohol can immediately reduce inflammation and allow the body to heal in incredible ways.

Alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis

Alcoholic hepatitis is an inflammatory condition caused by unhealthy alcohol use. When the liver breaks down alcohol it produces toxins. When the liver is healthy, these toxins can be cleared from the body. With extended use, the liver becomes less successful at getting rid of these toxins, and liver damage occurs. Alcoholic hepatitis occurs when the liver becomes more inflamed and swollen, and liver cells are destroyed. If a person then continues to consume alcohol, they may develop cirrhosis. This is a serious and irreversible condition where scar tissue builds up inside the liver and replaces the normal cells of the liver.

(Video) How does alcohol affect your immune system? - BBC

Alcohol Inflammation Causes Explained & How to Reduce | Monument (1)

Infection

Chronic inflammation from alcohol damages the immune cells and fine hairs that clear viruses and bacteria out of the airways. This may make someone more at risk for bacterial and viral infections in the lungs and respiratory tract.

Heart disease

Inflammation also increases the risk of developing heart disease. High sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) is a measure of inflammation used to evaluate the risk of developing coronary artery disease. A Norwegian study showed that people with heavy drinking habits had high levels of hs-CRP, meaning that the inflammation was causing ongoing damage of blood vessels in the heart and increasing the risk of heart disease.²

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Joint and muscle conditions

Joints and muscles are affected by inflammation. Firstly, alcohol’s dehydrating effect can create less lubrication between the joints which can lead to persisting joint inflammation and pain. Alcohol is also high in purines, a substance that gets broken down into uric acid. Excessive uric acid creates sharp crystals in the joints, causing painful inflammation and conditions like osteoarthritis and gout. Lastly, alcohol-induced inflammation is known to worsen symptoms of fibromyalgia, a condition that causes widespread muscular pain throughout the body.

Brain damage

The brain is another area commonly affected by inflammation from alcohol. There are specific cells in the brain that are part of the brain’s immune system. When these cells are exposed to alcohol, they produce pro-inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. Repeated exposure to alcohol leads to a long-term activation of these inflammation-inducing chemicals, resulting in neuronal damage, cell death, and behavioral changes such as anxiety and impaired cognitive function.³

Inflammation from alcohol has also been shown to directly damage the white matter and gray matter in the brain. White matter damage can affect problem solving, multitasking, and memory. Gray matter damage can create issues with movement, memory, and emotions. In general, long-term inflammation of the brain leads to scarring and brain volume shrinkage.

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Mental health conditions

Many people are unaware that alcohol-related inflammation can also affect your mental health. Research shows that nearly one third of patients with alcohol use disorder have mood disorders such as depression, and 37% of patients have anxiety disorders. While there are many reasons why alcohol use disorder, anxiety, and depression are commonly co-occuring conditions, inflammation plays a role. Cytokines, the inflammation-related chemicals that alcohol releases in the brain, are known to exacerbate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and alcohol cravings.⁵Working with a therapist in specialized alcohol therapy can help treat alcohol use disorder and mental health conditions simultaneously.

How to Reduce Inflammation from Alcohol


Change your relationship with alcohol

The best way to reduce alcohol-induced inflammation and the related short-term and long-term effects is to change your drinking habits. Depending on your symptoms and health risks, you can decide if moderation or abstinence is right for you. And you don’t have to do that alone. At Monument, you’ll work with a Care Team to discuss your drinking habits and medical history, and come up with a treatment plan specific to your needs and goals.

Stay hydrated

Hydration is important. If a person chooses to continue to drink in moderation, some of the effects of the inflammation associated with alcohol use can be offset by good hydration. A good rule of thumb is to drink an 8 ounce glass of water after each alcoholic beverage you consume. Because sugar worsens inflammation, also try to avoid sugary alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol Inflammation Causes Explained & How to Reduce | Monument (3)

Make diet changes

Many of the foods that go along with drinking include things that cause inflammation. For example, refined carbohydrates (think sweet foods), fatty or fried foods (pizza, fries), and red meats and processed meats (tailgate foods like burgers and hot dogs) are known to cause inflammation. Making diet changes can help offset chronic inflammation. Recommended foods include fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C (strawberries, blueberries, cherries, citrus fruits, tomatoes), green leafy vegetables, and heart healthy fats (olive oil, salmon, and nuts). A good example of this is the Mediterranean diet plan.

Other lifestyle changes that can help reduce inflammation include exercising for 20 minutes a day, maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough sleep (7-9 hours/night), and decreasing stress through relaxation and mindfulness techniques.

Benefits of Reducing Alcohol Related Inflammation

Reducing alcohol-related inflammation can provide many benefits to your overall health and wellbeing. You may see improved blood sugar levels and decreased cholesterol. Pain symptoms from joint and muscle inflammation tend to decrease. Negative mood changes may improve, and energy can increase as a result. There’s also a decreased risk of developing various health conditions including:

  • Liver damage
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Cancer

Changing your relationship with alcohol allows your body and mind space to recover from inflammation and regain its natural balance. It can also introduce several other benefits of sobriety. There’s many resources to help you make a change. At Monument, we provide a judgment and stigma-free alcohol treatment program and support every step of the way. Whatever the challenge, you are not alone.

Alcohol Inflammation Causes Explained & How to Reduce | Monument (4)

Sources:

  1. University of Porto Medical School. “Alcohol intake and systemic markers of inflammation–shape of the association according to sex and body mass index, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20083478.” Accessed Apr, 10. 2022.
  2. Translational Psychiatry. “The link between inflammation, bugs, the intestine and the brain in alcohol dependence, https://doi.org/10.1038/tp.2017.15.” Accessed Apr, 10. 2022.
  3. Verywell Mind. “How Alcohol Compounds Its Damage to the Brain, https://www.verywellmind.com/alcohol-compounds-its-damage-to-the-brain-62747.” Accessed Apr, 10. 2022.
  4. Healthline. “Anti-Inflammatory Diet 101: How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/anti-inflammatory-diet-101?c=51535650010.” Accessed Apr, 10. 2022.

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

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About the Author

Alcohol Inflammation Causes Explained & How to Reduce | Monument (5)Dr. Elizabeth Klenk graduated from the University of Toledo with a BA in Biology and from the University of Cincinnati with a Master of Science in Biological Sciences followed by her MD. She was a hockey player and played goalie for several high level mens' teams. Dr. Klenk also reads avidly and enjoys spending time with her children, playing music, hiking, and participating in cattle herding competitions across the country with her Border Collies. She lives on a working cattle ranch in Ohio with her family and is an active part of the farm in her spare time.

FAQs

How do you reduce alcohol induced inflammation? ›

Other lifestyle changes that can help reduce inflammation include exercising for 20 minutes a day, maintaining a healthy weight, getting enough sleep (7-9 hours/night), and decreasing stress through relaxation and mindfulness techniques.

How does alcohol trigger inflammation? ›

Heavy alcohol consumption contributes to systemic inflammation by interfering with the body's natural defenses against the influx of gut microbiota and its products.

How long does it take for inflammation to go away after drinking alcohol? ›

Swelling after a night of drinking is usually temporary and may be gone within 24 to 48 hours. However, there are some things you can do to relieve swelling and any discomfort it's causing by getting rid of water retention after drinking alcohol.

Does all alcohol cause inflammation? ›

Does alcohol affect inflammation? Inflammation causes the symptoms of RA, including joint pain, stiffness, and fatigue. Heavy alcohol use can increase inflammation in the body, while moderate drinking may actually reduce inflammation.

Which alcohol is most inflammatory? ›

Red wine has greater anti-inflammatory action than other alcohols.

What is the least inflammatory alcohol? ›

Rum. Rum is also grain-free, which means it's less inflammatory than other choices.

What drinks cause inflammation? ›

Beverages rich in sugar, artificial sugars and other chemicals can cause inflammation. Some examples are sweet tea, soda, alcoholic beverages, energy drinks and sugary coffees.

Does alcohol make inflammation worse? ›

Alcohol does cause inflammation of different organs including pancreatic cells. However, this inflammation may be reduced by drinking certain alcoholic beverages such as red wine. Certain alcoholic beverages, such as red wine, reduce inflammation because it contains tannin, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

What are the first signs of liver damage from alcohol? ›

Symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD)
  • feeling sick.
  • weight loss.
  • loss of appetite.
  • yellowing of the whites of the eyes or skin (jaundice)
  • swelling in the ankles and tummy.
  • confusion or drowsiness.
  • vomiting blood or passing blood in your stools.

How do you Debloat from alcohol? ›

How Do You Get Rid of Alcohol Bloat?
  1. Avoid carbonated beverages – Limiting carbonated drinks will reduce the amount of gas in your stomach.
  2. Drink at a slow to moderate pace – Rather than chugging, sip your drink slowly. ...
  3. Eat less salt – Salt in your diet causes you to retain water.

Does coffee cause inflammation? ›

Research suggests that coffee does not cause inflammation in most people—even if your norm is more than one or two caffeinated cups. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Coffee may have anti-inflammatory effects in the body.

What are the 5 classic signs of inflammation? ›

Based on visual observation, the ancients characterised inflammation by five cardinal signs, namely redness (rubor), swelling (tumour), heat (calor; only applicable to the body' extremities), pain (dolor) and loss of function (functio laesa).

Is alcohol inflammatory for joints? ›

Alcohol's inflammatory effects can aggravate both degenerative joint pain from osteoarthritis and auto-immune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis may flare up in response to a particular type of whiskey or beer. Alcohol's effects on immune function can also inhibit normal joint healing.

Does vodka reduce inflammation? ›

New scientific research studies show that vodka can actually help heal symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Part of the reason vodka works so well is that it helps reduce inflammation just like an ice pack on a swollen wound.

What vitamin is good for inflammation? ›

Vitamin C. Vitamin C, like vitamin D, is an essential vitamin that plays a huge role in immunity and inflammation. It's a powerful antioxidant, so it can reduce inflammation by neutralizing free radicals that cause oxidative damage to your cells ( 55 ).

How can I reduce inflammation naturally? ›

Simple rules of thumb for anti-inflammatory eating:
  1. Eat more plants. Whole plant foods have the anti-inflammatory nutrients that your body needs. ...
  2. Focus on antioxidants. They help prevent, delay or repair some types of cell and tissue damage. ...
  3. Get your Omega-3s. ...
  4. Eat less red meat. ...
  5. Cut the processed stuff.
13 Aug 2019

What foods quickly reduce inflammation? ›

Anti-inflammatory foods

green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collards. nuts like almonds and walnuts. fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines. fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges.

What is the cleanest alcohol? ›

When it comes to a healthier alcohol, red wine is top of the list. Red wine contains antioxidants, which can protect your cells from damage, and polyphenols, which can promote heart health.

What food and drinks cause inflammation? ›

What foods cause inflammation?
  • Red meat and processed meats, including bacon, hot dogs, lunch meats and cured meats.
  • Refined grains, including white bread, white rice, pasta and breakfast cereals.
  • Snack foods, including chips, cookies, crackers and pastries.
  • Sodas and other sweetened drinks.
  • Fried foods.
29 Jun 2022

Is beer good for inflammation? ›

Anti-inflammatory Benefits

Alcohol's anti-inflammatory effects are also thought to be one of the reasons it appears to lower cardiovascular disease risk in moderate drinkers.

What is the easiest alcohol on your liver? ›

Bellion Vodka is the first commercially-made alcohol with NTX technology — a glycyrrhizin, mannitol and potassium sorbate blend that is clinically proven to be easier on your liver.

Does sugar cause inflammation? ›

Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease.

Does red wine reduce inflammation? ›

Studies suggest that a compound called resveratrol in wine has anti-inflammatory properties and may benefit health ( 5 , 6 ). One study in 4,461 adults demonstrated that moderate consumption of wine was linked to a reduced inflammatory response ( 7 ).

Do bananas cause inflammation? ›

Bananas are versatile fruits with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties that can help counteract inflammation and support the body's immune system. People may benefit from an anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding pro-inflammatory foods.

Are eggs anti-inflammatory? ›

Are eggs an anti-inflammatory food? Yes. Eggs are a source of vitamin D, which has anti-inflammatory effects. 10 They're also a good source of protein and B vitamins.

What are the 10 most inflammatory foods? ›

Here, we look at the top ten foods which set the stage for inflammatory diseases:
  • Sugars. ...
  • Common Cooking Oils. ...
  • Trans Fats. ...
  • Dairy Products. ...
  • Feedlot-Raised Meat. ...
  • Red Meat & Processed Meat. ...
  • Alcohol. ...
  • Refined Grains.

Why do my joints hurt after a night of drinking? ›

Alcohol makes it more difficult to get REM sleep, which is the restorative period of rest. Fatigue can lead to joint pain, as well as other body aches.

Can alcohol cause muscle and joint pain? ›

With time, the toxins in alcohol can cause damage to muscles and joints. With more frequent drinking, these problems can persist and become serious.

What can I drink to flush my liver? ›

Here is a list of drinks that help in natural cleansing and detoxification of the liver according to Medical News.
  1. Coffee. Coffee is good for the liver, especially because it protects against issues such as fatty liver disease. ...
  2. Ginger and lemon drink. ...
  3. Oatmeal drink. ...
  4. Tumeric drink. ...
  5. Green tea. ...
  6. Grapefruit drink.
20 May 2020

What vitamins are good for liver repair? ›

Which Vitamins Are Good for the Liver? Vitamins that play a crucial role in maintaining liver health include vitamin D, E, C, B. Individuals need to take these vitamins regularly through a healthy diet plan.

How do I know if alcohol has damaged my body? ›

Generally, symptoms of alcoholic liver disease include abdominal pain and tenderness, dry mouth and increased thirst, fatigue, jaundice (which is yellowing of the skin), loss of appetite, and nausea. Your skin may look abnormally dark or light.

What does an alcoholic look like face? ›

Redness in the face, especially the nose and cheeks - There are many facial signs of alcoholism, including enlarged blood vessels, causing redness in the face. In the long term, these vessels can over-dilate, leading to spider veins on the skin.

How can you get rid of alcohol in your system? ›

Even moderate levels of alcohol have a dehydrating effect, and drinking water can slow this effect down. When a person hydrates by drinking plenty of water, it can give their liver time to metabolize the alcohol in their body, as well as spacing out the alcoholic drinks they consume.

Why do I swell when I drink alcohol? ›

Alcohol dehydrates our bodies, including the skin – this happens every time we drink. Drinking alcohol can also cause our faces to look bloated and puffy. We might find that it bloats our stomach too. This is caused by the dehydrating effects of alcohol.

Why is there so much inflammation in my body? ›

Possible Causes

The most common reasons for chronic inflammation include: Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, where your body attacks healthy tissue. Exposure to toxins, like pollution or industrial chemicals. Untreated acute inflammation, such as from an infection or injury.

Can green tea cure inflammation? ›

Through cellular, animal, and human experiments, green tea and its major component, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) have been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory effects.

Is oatmeal an inflammatory food? ›

If you have a food sensitivity to either oats or grains/gluten, you may not tolerate oats well. Your body may heighten the immune system response causing low-grade chronic inflammation. In that case, yes, oats are inflammatory.

What is the least inflammatory alcohol? ›

Rum. Rum is also grain-free, which means it's less inflammatory than other choices.

Why do my joints hurt after a night of drinking? ›

Alcohol makes it more difficult to get REM sleep, which is the restorative period of rest. Fatigue can lead to joint pain, as well as other body aches.

What helps with body aches after drinking? ›

Drinking water, juice, broth and other nonalcoholic beverages to reduce dehydration. Getting sleep to counteract fatigue. Taking antacids to help settle your stomach. Trying aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, to help your headache or muscle ache.

Does alcohol cause inflammation in muscles? ›

Alcohol-mediated increases in inflammation have been linked to oxidative stress as well as to organ damage or impaired function in muscle, brain, and cardiovascular and immune systems (Molina et al. 2014). Chronic inflammation also has been implicated as an underlying mechanism for loss of muscle mass.

Which diet is best for anti-inflammatory? ›

An anti-inflammatory diet favors fruits and vegetables, foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, lean protein, healthful fats, and spices. It discourages or limits the consumption of processed foods, red meats, and alcohol.

What drinks cause inflammation? ›

Beverages rich in sugar, artificial sugars and other chemicals can cause inflammation. Some examples are sweet tea, soda, alcoholic beverages, energy drinks and sugary coffees.

Does coffee cause inflammation? ›

Research suggests that coffee does not cause inflammation in most people—even if your norm is more than one or two caffeinated cups. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Coffee may have anti-inflammatory effects in the body.

Why do legs hurt after drinking alcohol? ›

People who drink too much may start to feel pain and tingling in their limbs. This is known as alcoholic neuropathy. In people with alcoholic neuropathy, the peripheral nerves have been damaged by too much alcohol use. The peripheral nerves transmit signals between the body, the spinal cord, and the brain.

Can alcohol neuropathy be cured? ›

There is no cure for alcoholic neuropathy, and the nerve damage is usually permanent. This condition is typically not life-threatening. However, it will worsen with continued alcohol use.

Why do knees hurt after drinking alcohol? ›

Everyone knows that alcohol works as a depressant when it enters the bloodstream, influencing the functions of your body. However, it also depletes your body of water and nutrients, which in turn increases inflammation. That exacerbated inflammation in the body can be directly linked to joint pain.

How long does alcohol stay in your system? ›

The half-life of alcohol is four to five hours. A half-life is how long it takes for your body to get rid of half of it. But you need about five half-lives to get rid of alcohol completely. So, it takes about 25 hours for your body to clear all the alcohol.

Can alcohol cause muscle and joint pain? ›

With time, the toxins in alcohol can cause damage to muscles and joints. With more frequent drinking, these problems can persist and become serious.

Is alcohol inflammatory for joints? ›

Alcohol's inflammatory effects can aggravate both degenerative joint pain from osteoarthritis and auto-immune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis may flare up in response to a particular type of whiskey or beer. Alcohol's effects on immune function can also inhibit normal joint healing.

Is Wine an inflammatory? ›

Wine contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation is harmful and may increase the risk of conditions such as heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and certain cancers. Therefore, it's best to prevent this type of inflammation as much as possible ( 5 ).

Can alcoholic myopathy be reversed? ›

It can take longer to recover muscle strength and movement in chronic alcoholic myopathy, but it can be reversed. About 85% of people recover within 2 to 12 months of quitting all alcohol and are fully recovered within 5 years of sobriety. In some cases, heart damage is severe and might not be reversible.

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