Medically reviewed on November 22, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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We all know that morning-after feeling following a night that was just a little too much fun. Your head is pounding, your throat is dry, and your entire body feels like one giant bruise. But what causes the unpleasant feeling of a hangover? Does alcohol cause inflammation?
The answer, unfortunately, is yes: alcohol causes inflammation .
And because inflammation is connected to a number of significant health problems, it’s important to understand what's actually happening inside your body when you drink. Here, we break down everything you should know about the link between alcohol and inflammation.
What is inflammation?
To understand how alcohol and inflammation are connected, let’s start by exploring what exactly inflammation is. Inflammation is your body’s response to injury or infection. While we usually think of it as a bad thing, it actually serves some important purposes .
When your body’s inflammatory response works as it should, it helps your body heal and protect itself from further harm. But when it doesn’t shut down properly or reacts to the wrong causes, it can become a problem .
Inflammation can be acute or chronic :
- Acute inflammation is a short-term response that occurs when the body is exposed to an irritant, such as a cut or burn
- Chronic inflammation occurs when the body is continually exposed to an irritant, such as pollution or smoke, or when acute inflammation reoccurs or fails to stop
Left untreated, chronic inflammation can lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
How does alcohol contribute to inflammation?
Alcohol intake can lead to increased inflammation in the body for several reasons. The most important thing to understand about alcohol and its effects on your body is simply that alcohol is a toxin. Naturally, processing a toxin causes stress, irritation, and inflammation on your organs .
Alcohol consumption contributes to inflammation in four key ways:
- Causes gut imbalance – Consuming alcohol can interfere with the gut microbiome, upsetting the balance between good and bad bacteria. It also causes an overgrowth of bacteria in the digestive tract. Both of these factors contribute to inflammation in the gut .
- Causes overproduction of inflammatory substances – Alcohol increases the production of certain inflammatory chemicals in the body called endotoxins .
- Stresses the intestinal wall – In heavy drinkers, research has found that alcohol increases the permeability of the intestines. This can allow harmful substances to leak out of the gut and into other tissues .
- Weakens immune response – Researchers believe that alcohol may interfere with the immune system, leading to further inflammation. A study on mice found that alcohol reduced their ability to fight off bacterial infection .
Even moderate alcohol consumption can contribute to inflammation as your organs process and expel the toxins . It’s important to be aware of these potential risks when drinking alcohol, as ongoing low-grade inflammation can contribute to a number of serious health problems.
What are the effects of inflammation?
Although inflammation does help the body to protect itself from harm, it’s meant to be a short-term reaction. When it continues for long periods, it can :
- Damage tissues and organs, leading to swelling and stiffness in the muscles and joints
- Interfere with the body's ability to fight infection and heal from injuries
- Contribute to life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, sepsis, or organ failure
It’s important to be aware of the risks of inflammation and take steps to reduce it when you can. Cutting back or eliminating alcohol is a healthy step to take if you’re concerned about inflammation.
How can you reduce inflammation naturally?
There are several steps you can take to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Avoid tobacco smoke – Cigarette smoke can irritate the lungs and contribute to inflammation in other organs as well. One study also found that cigarettes not only cause inflammation on their own but also increase the harmful effects of alcohol on the liver.
- Eat a healthy diet – Try to avoid foods that cause inflammation and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. These nutrient-rich foods help to reduce inflammation by providing the body with the nutrients it needs to repair tissue damage and fight infection .
- Exercise regularly – Exercise may help to reduce inflammation by improving circulation and increasing the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals in the body .
- Reduce stress – Chronic stress, depression, and anxiety can all contribute to inflammation . Try managing your stress with frequent breaks, daily outdoor time, and mindfulness techniques like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing.
Stay on top of inflammation with Everlywell
Inflammation is a vital part of your body’s defenses against injury and infection—but when your body’s inflammatory system is imbalanced, too much of a good thing can cause some serious problems.
But it’s not always easy to tell if you’re suffering from inflammation. The symptoms can be hard to identify, especially if you’ve been living with them for some time.
With at-home tests from Everlywell, it’s never been easier to check for hidden signs of inflammation. Our Vitamin D & Inflammation Test can tell you if your vitamin D levels are normal and also measures hs-CRP, a key marker of inflammation.
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- Bishehsari F, Magno E, Swanson G, et al. Alcohol and Gut-Derived Inflammation. Alcohol Research. 2017;38(2):163-171.
- What is inflammation? National Library of Medicine. Accessed November 4, 2022. URL
- Inflammation: What is it, causes, symptoms & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed November 4, 2022. URL
- Chen L, Deng H, Cui H, et al. Inflammatory responses and inflammation-associated diseases in organs. Oncotarget. 2017;9(6):7204-7218. Published 2017 Dec 14. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.23208
- Sibley D, Jerrells TR. Alcohol consumption by C57BL/6 mice is associated with depletion of lymphoid cells from the gut-associated lymphoid tissues and altered resistance to oral infections with Salmonella typhimurium. Journal of Infectious Diseases. 2000;182(2):482-489. doi:10.1086/315728
- Maydych V. The Interplay Between Stress, Inflammation, and Emotional Attention: Relevance for Depression. Frontiers in Neuroscience. 2019;13:384. Published 2019 Apr 24. doi:10.3389/fnins.2019.00384