The Keys are a place for a whole lot of fun, but remember, too much alcohol can cause a lot of damage

Nikki Sommer, a nurse with Key West Surgical Group, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5 FM for Medical Matters this morning.

Too much alcohol can be a problem in a number of ways – acid reflux is one.  

Sommer said, “The reason why I bring this up is a lot of times patients call after they have their wonderful upper and lower scope and they either have a lot of irritation, and the number one question I get is, when can I start drinking alcohol again? The doctors will tell them refrain from alcohol, caffeine, all the things that trigger it. But then they’ll be like, oh, when can I have my wine again? When can I have my beer again? So excessive alcohol, drinking can cause acid reflux. It relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter, which normally prevents the acid from your stomach backing up into your esophagus. So that’s why you experience acid reflux, the heartburn.”

Too much alcohol can lead to diarrhea as well.

Sommer said, “That’s because it disrupts the bacteria in your colon and that can cause inflammation and irritation. It can cause, it’s not a medical term, but it’s used frequently, as a leaky gut. What that means is there’s a weakening in the intestinal wall and it allows bacteria and toxins to get into the bloodstream, which could lead to other problems down the road, like other types of inflammatory disease or autoimmune disease in certain people. Think of intestinal lining as a brick wall. When there are cracks in the mortar between the bricks, water can leak through. What happens when water leaks through? There’s damage. So in leaky gut, alcohol causes cracks in the mortar of the intestinal wall. So this is what they consider like a leaky gut. It decreases absorption and increases the production of bile in the liver, which then can lead to diarrhea.”

Dysbiosis can happen.

Sommer said it’s “where the gut bacteria becomes imbalanced. It leads to a lot of digestive disturbances causing bloating, diarrhea, constipation, stomach cramps, and so forth.”

Gastritis is another issue.

Sommers said, “Gastritis is kind of in the family of acid reflux, but this can cause a lot of inflammation of the stomach lining. Then you can feel nauseous. You actually can have some abdominal pain and vomiting. This is what can lead to ulcers if either left untreated, if it’s ongoing. So usually in the past when I have taken care of patients with alcoholism, it’s usually something like this that brings them into the hospital and then they have to stop drinking because they end up with severe ulcers and bleeding.”

When you feel bloated after a couple of drinks, there’s a reason for that.

Sommer explained, “It’s because it also disrupts the digestion of the sugars. Alcohol can tend to have a lot of sugar. So it disrupts the digestion of sugars and the balance of bacteria. It also can shift the gut’s normal fungal diversity. It can cause an overgrowth of yeast. It can lead to bloating.”

Ultimately, alcohol can cause liver damage.

Sommer said, “There is a condition called alcoholic fatty liver or alcoholic steatohepatitis. It’s because alcohol is broken down in the liver basically and every time when you drink it in excess, your liver’s like doing overtime to try and metabolize that because your liver is the filter of the body. You have to be careful if you get diagnosed with alcoholic fatty liver disease because it can turn into cirrhosis over time and even liver failure and some cases people do get liver cancer from it.”

The pancreas can also be damaged by alcohol.

Sommer said, “Your pancreas is a little organ, but it’s like a multitasking organ. It does a lot. It has a lot of responsibility. It also metabolizes alcohol, and it turns then into toxic byproducts. It can cause inflammation of the pancreas. Too much alcohol kind of puts that into overdrive and a lot of times patients who drink a lot excessively or even who have history of alcoholism, it’s not uncommon that they get diagnosed with pancreatitis.”

Four to five drinks a day for five years or more makes you more likely to get pancreatitis.

Sommer said, “That would eventually lead to liver disease as well. That’s every day putting your body into overdrive.”