Does Alcohol Cause Leaky Gut?

When over consumed, alcohol can contribute to many negative health consequences, including leaky gut.

There is solid evidence connecting alcohol consumption and digestive issues. But, can you still drink alcohol and avoid leaky gut?

Read on to find out!

What is Leaky Gut?

Leaky gut is a term to describe when the intestinal barrier is more permeable, or leaky.

In healthy individuals, the gut allows very small molecules to pass through into circulation.  When the gut is “leakier,” the filter allows larger particles to sneak through the cracks.

Sometimes harmful and toxic molecules, known as endotoxins, pass into circulation and can damage organs such as the liver (1).

Leaky gut can increase inflammation, immune responses, and even contribute to autoimmune diseases.

Summary: Leaky gut is a condition that allows harmful substances into the body through permeable intestinal barriers. This can result in significant health consequences.

How Alcohol Contributes to Leaky Gut

Alcohol exacerbates leaky gut, allowing toxins and large molecules to pass through the intestinal wall.

Alcohol also causes mucosal damage, inflammation, and bacterial dysbiosis.


Increased intestinal permeability occurs in both animal and human alcohol studies.

One study even uncovered an increase in liver and systemic blood endotoxins in rats two hours after alcohol ingestion (1,2).

Mucosal Damage

Chronic alcohol consumption results in intestinal mucosal damage.

This increases the intestine’s permeability, resulting in leaky gut.

Animal and human studies show alcohol-related damage throughout the small intestine, including erosions and hemorrhage (1).


The metabolism of alcohol can contribute to intestinal inflammation.

During alcohol metabolism, excess acetaldehyde is produced in the large intestine. Acetaldehyde is a toxic byproduct of alcohol metabolism that increases the formation of harmful, proinflammatory metabolites.

Acetaldehyde contributes to the breakdown of intestinal barrier tight junctions. Tight junctions are essential for strong intestinal barriers (3).

Bacterial Dysbiosis

Studies show that abusive alcoholic consumption may alter the ratio of good and bad intestinal bacteria populations.

Specifically, excessive alcohol consumption decreases beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus.  These changes result in gut damage (3).

Summary: Chronic alcohol consumption creates a cycle of mucosal damage and inflammation in the intestine that results in an altered bacterial environment and increased intestinal permeability. All of these variables contribute to a leaky gut.

Who is Affected?

Not all that consume alcohol will immediately experience leaky gut.

However, moderate and chronic alcohol consumption may increase leaky gut. A 2014 study of 12 healthy individuals showed large and small intestine permeability after having one standard drink. However, the duration of permeability and the long-term effects of moderate drinking are unknown (4).

A more profound alcohol-leaky gut connection is found in those with heavy or chronic alcohol abuse. The good news is intestinal damage can be somewhat reversed. Studies show that in alcohol-dependent individuals, abstinence increased intestinal concentrations of beneficial bacteria (5).

The National Institute of Health defines heavy alcohol use as “binge drinking on five or more days in the past month.” Binge drinking is classified as a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08g/dL, which can occur after “four drinks for women and five drinks for men in about two hours.”

Summary: Chronic or heavy drinking as defined by the NIH contributes to leaky gut. Moderate alcohol consumption may also contribute to leaky gut, but the long-term effects remain unknown.

How to Enjoy Alcohol and Avoid Leaky Gut

While a drink every so often won’t cause leaky gut, there are some nutritional strategies to avoid leaky gut.

If recovering from alcohol abuse, these tips can help to heal your intestines.

  • Drink in Moderation:
    • The Dietary Guidelines recommends no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
    • Guidelines for what one drink entails can be found here.
  • Supplement with Pre-and Probiotics:
    • A wide range of probiotics can help heal the gut, decrease permeability, and reduce endotoxemia such as L. rhamnosus GG or VSL#3 (3).
    • Prebiotics or resistant starches, known as fructooligosaccarides, promote the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria and decrease harmful bacterial growth. They can be found in bananas, onions, leeks, asparagus, etc. (3,6).
  • Eat Oats:
    • Oats have been found to decrease gut inflammation, permeability, and endotoxin levels in animal studies (7).
  • Glutamine Supplementation:
    • An amino acid found in oats, beef, pork, milk, yogurt, and spinach decrease gut leakiness in mice and humans.
    • You can increase glutamine by eating the listed foods or supplement with 5-40 grams throughout the day (6,7).
  • Zinc and Vitamin D:
    • Deficiencies in both nutrients impact leaky gut.
    • Ensure you are getting enough sunlight exposure, eating meats, spinach, nuts and seeds, and dark chocolate (6).

Summary: Numerous nutritional strategies can help prevent and treat leaky gut if drinking in moderation or recovering from alcohol abuse.

Alcohol & Leaky Gut Connection

The connection between leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, and excessive alcohol consumption is grounded in science.

Drinking too much can result in increased intestinal permeability, mucosal damage, inflammation, and bacterial dysbiosis.

These individual consequences create a cycle that, when fed with alcohol, will continue to damage the body. Achieve a healthy gut by drinking in moderation and incorporating pre and probiotics, zinc, vitamin D, and glutamine.


By Elise Deming, RDN, LDN @eat.with.elise