With Alcohol Awareness Week (from the 16th of November) upon us, it’s time for us to look a little closer at what our Friday night tipple 🍺 is doing to our health.
In particular, we want to help answer a common question that we hear: Can alcohol make my pain worse?
There is good evidence to suggest that alcohol can cause pain, mainly because of its relationship to inflammation 🔥 in the body.
Inflammation is when the body sends blood to an area with white blood cells and chemicals in it to help tissues heal and repair. If it is present for too long, healthy tissues are damaged by the cells and chemicals. In the body inflammation isn’t always apparent – though signs you can experience include redness, heat, swelling, pain or loss of function. That means you might not be able to move an inflamed joint properly.
Inflammation can also cause a lot of other effects in the body – like feeling ill, tired 😴, or having fevers 🤒, as well as affecting the immune system. On this level, it’s important to reduce inflammation in the body, and thinking about your alcohol consumption can be a very helpful place to start.
The Relationship Between Alcohol and Inflammation
Inflammation can be good or bad, depending on the context of when it occurs.
For instance, inflammation is a good thing when you’re sick or injured – in fact, inflammation is the body’s way of protecting itself, defending against illness and stimulating healing.
However, chronic or sustained inflammation is not good – it is linked to diseases like diabetes, obesity and heart disease 💔. There are many factors that can increase or decrease the inflammation levels in your body.
Alcohol in particular isn’t generally credited with positive inflammation!
In fact, it’s important to note right from the outset here that research has shown that alcohol can cause inflammation in the intestines, impairing the body’s ability to regulate that inflammation.
In particular, people who do drink too much alcohol tend to develop issues with their bacterial toxins, which move from the colon into the rest of the body. This is also called ‘leaky gut’, and can start widespread inflammation throughout the body, which may be linked with organ damage.
In all, it’s important to be aware that the foods and drinks you ingest have a big impact on the level of inflammation in your body!
How Inflammation Causes Pain in the Body
Inflammation involves many different immune system cells. These release substances known as inflammatory mediators, like bradykinin and histamine.
These cause small blood vessels🩸in your tissue to widen, which is meant to allow more blood to reach the injury (thus feeling red or hot! 🥵). This also allows for more immune system cells to reach the injury to help healing start. However, these immune hormones and chemicals do irritate nerves, causing pain signals to be sent to the brain. They can also allow more fluid into the area, which is why an inflamed area often swells up.
The body also sends pain chemicals to the area – if an area hurts, you’re more likely to protect that area and give it a chance to heal! This is why it’s important not to push through and keep exercising 🏃♂️ if you’re experiencing pain.
But as we said, not all inflammation is good – if you have too much inflammation going on, sometimes this can become harmful. In conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, where joints are permanently inflamed, or conditions like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis inflammation can have painful effects joint and bowel function respectfully.
So, be aware that you want inflammation to help start healing – but you don’t want to exacerbate inflammation more than necessary!
Alcohol can be a really key factor here, and it’s important to moderate your intake.
How to Moderate your Drinking Habits 🍻
Moderating your alcohol consumption is considered to be one drink per day for women and two for men. However, this is still too high when we look at inflammation.
Large amounts of alcohol can create intestinal inflammation and exacerbate existing inflammation in the body as it disrupts the gut and other organs, like the liver. This is what starts up a vicious cycle, making inflammation much worse in the body! Moderating your habits means being aware of how your body reacts and reducing alcohol completely if you are in the worst of an inflammation cycle.
Other Things You Can Do to Reduce Inflammation
Reduce your sugar and high-fructose corn syrup intake 🍰. Sugars can definitely cause inflammation and may lead to disease. This is because sugar inflames the gut, and can contribute to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and more.
Foods high in added sugar can include sweets, chocolate, soft drinks, cakes, biscuits, doughnuts, and some cereals.
Refined carbohydrates 🥯 are the next related group of inflammatory foods! They tend to have a higher glycaemic index than less processed foods, which can spike blood sugar levels 🎂. It’s best to go for high fibre carbohydrates instead of refined or processed carbs like bread, pasta, cookies, etc.
Caffeine can also increase inflammation, so be aware of how your body responds to caffeine intake☕️ and whether you’re coupling this with sugar intake. So, drink less caffeinated beverages, especially soft drinks!
Processed meat 🥓 is another food that you can reduce to help reduce inflammation in your body. This includes sausages, bacon, ham – any meat that has been through a process to become a product on your supermarket shelf!
Some vegetable oils can also be a problem for inflammation due to high omega-6 fatty acid content.
Be aware about how much of these foods and drinks you’re getting in your diet and consider changes to your lifestyle to help reduce any pain you’re experiencing.
Let’s face it – a glass of chilled white wine is one of life’s pleasures 🥂! But it’s best to consume mindfully. Treat this as a luxury, not a regular indulgence.
If you are experiencing a lot of pain, come and see us – we can assess this and help support your journey back to a pain-free life.