Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
20 May

Self-Experiment: No Alcohol for 45 Days and Counting

wineglassI’ve always had gut issues – IBS and related challenges. In fact, the diarrhea, bloating, gut pain, gas, and the assorted other embarrassing IBS symptoms that make life truly difficult are what led me to this lifestyle. Getting rid of grains at age 47 was life-changing, and even as gluten deniers are becoming more vocal I will adamantly stand by that shift as one of the most important Primal behaviors anyone can adopt. I went from waking up everyday in pain most of my life, having to be continuously aware that an episode might occur at any time, and planning my daily excursions away from home based on where I knew there might be a (satisfactory) public bathroom, to feeling freedom from that cramping and pain, and being able to travel without trepidation. Adding probiotics like Primal Flora helped “regulate” me even more.

But even up to a few months ago I still would notice the occasional gut issues arising once in a while, mostly just in the morning, and mostly fully resolved after going to the bathroom a few times. So, as comfortable as I felt 98% of the time, I still wondered why that would happen at all, if in fact I had done everything I needed to do to fully “heal” my gut, or to at least unburden myself from any further severe gut pains.

For a while, I thought it might be lingering stress that was causing these irregular bouts of intestinal distress. I have often shared here how I don’t think I handle stress that well (even though I know a ton about the deleterious effects of stress – maybe I worry too much about worrying). It’s often said that people carry their stress in their gut, so that made sense to me on some level. And since research shows that psychological stress has directly deleterious effects on the gut itself, there was scientific plausibility. One of the reasons I decided to drink a glass or two of wine each night was to wind down after a stressful day. And that seemed to work very well for me. I came to cherish that end of the day routine, the pop of a cork, the click of the glasses, the quiet hour or two spent with Carrie winding down the day and sipping together. I swear I could feel the stress leaving my body.

My justification for drinking what amounts to a poison was that maybe the stress-reducing effects of wine outweigh the negative consequences of ethanol for some people. I assumed it was the case for me. But then there was always that little voice asking if I’d done everything to address this lingering gut issue, and maybe there was a connection between ethanol and gut health.

So I decided to look.

Obviously, a binge is bad. Recent research shows that it’s bad for our guts. Acute bouts of moderate-to-high dose ethanol administration (4-5 drinks in a short period of time, or whatever it took to raise subjects’ blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 in an hour) increase intestinal permeability and allow endotoxins to slip into the bloodstream to causes systemic inflammation. (Of course, there’s no mention of food intake. If the subjects drank vodka on an empty stomach, the results may not be applicable to someone having four glasses of wine with their meal. Alcohol absorption and toxicity increase rapidly on an empty stomach, and I’m not drinking like that. I take my wine with my meal, or after.)

But what if even moderate alcohol consumption – the “healthy” way that I’ve been doing for years – could affect the gut negatively?

Well…

There’s physiological precedent. Ethanol directly increases permeability in epithelial cells. So when you drink a glass of wine (or scotch, or vodka) and expose your gut to ethanol, tight junction leakiness increases. Plus, just like our livers metabolize alcohol into the extremely toxic acetaldehyde, gut bacteria themselves metabolize alcohol into acetaldehyde. This can also cause tight junctions to grow more leaky.

There’s clinical precedent. Moderate wine consumption (1-3 glasses a day) caused relapse and increased leaky gut in patients with inactive inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). That wasn’t me – I “just” had IBS – but it’s relevant because a small amount of wine consumed regularly was enough to hamper recovery.

Moderate (1 drink per day for women, 2 for men) is also associated with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, a common cause of gastrointestinal issues like bloating, gas, pain, diarrhea, and constipation. Meanwhile, another study out of Spain found that moderate red wine drinking led to increased levels of beneficial gut bacteria. It seems contradictory, but red wine contains polyphenols which can act as prebiotics for gut flora, whereas the first study failed to distinguish between different types of alcohol. “Alcohol” could have been a shot of gin, a can of PBR, or a thimble of moonshine.

There was evidence that alcohol could have negative effects on the gut, albeit in other people. It was time to experiment on myself.

So I dropped alcohol entirely. No wine at night, even after a stressful day. That was 45 days ago. I’ve only had a couple glasses of wine here and there as challenges to test my progress and see what’s changed.

What have I noticed?

I have a theory that once we clean up our act by going Primal, once we’ve gotten great results by sticking to the plan, we then sometimes try to “see what we can get away with” in terms of reintroducing non-Primal fare. This is totally normal, and I do it too. In my case, I know that I don’t store fat easily, so I can get away with eating more safe starches or fruit than most people. I generally don’t do that, but I know I could anytime I wanted. On the other hand, I know that anything with gluten will rear its ugly head if I do too much. I know where the line is (say, two small bites of fresh sourdough bread slathered in butter on a restaurant plate, but not four) and yet I sometimes still see what I can get away with. Maybe it’s a eating a little chili with beans, some edamame at a sushi restaurant or a handful of peanuts. I know my limits.

I suspect that there was something more than hormetic about my consumption of ethanol combined with whatever normal gut challenges I might allow myself on those occasions, such as a little bread here or there or an increased legume intake. Rather than being an acute stressor that promoted a stronger compensatory recovery, I suspect daily wine was having an additive effect on the integrity of my gut which, over time, prevented complete recovery. This constant moderate exposure to a toxin that’s already hard on the gut made those intermittent challenges (the sourdough, the beans, a particularly stressful day or hard workout) to the gut’s integrity even more damaging.

Since I’ve been on this experiment about six weeks, I do feel as if I’ve reached a new level in gut comfort. My gut issues, although almost entirely resolved on Primal, have become nonexistent. When I challenge myself with a gut-irritant like bread, my discomfort threshold is higher. And I’m figuring out other ways to deal with end of day stress that don’t involve alcohol. Who knew that you could mimic the other aspects of the ritual – relaxing with your significant other after a great meal and talking about your day – and get the same benefits without opening a bottle of Zin?

I’ve noticed other changes, too.

With two glasses of red wine at night (say, from 6-7:30 pm), I’ll fall asleep easily when it’s bedtime, but often wake up at 2 or 3 am and have a tough time going back to sleep. Without wine (or with a small single glass early) this past month and a half, I’ve generally been sleeping comfortably through the night.

Now, I’m not anti-alcohol. There’s a time and a place, the good and the bad, and many people can enjoy it without incurring major negative effects. But I do think we in the ancestral health community tend to give it too free a free pass. We use a few cursory references about polyphenols, maybe an observational study or two on mortality and alcohol intake, and throw in the word “hormesis” and leave it at that. So today, I’m suggesting that you guys give an alcohol-free trial run just to see if you notice any improvements. It’s tinkering on the margins of health, but sometimes the margins hold the most promise for the otherwise healthy.

Because until we do give it up, we won’t know. Remember how you felt about grains and sugar and vegetable oils before you got into Primal – how you “felt fine” until you removed them and realized you had been suffering all along?

So I’m pretty sure I won’t go back to two glasses a night from here. I’ll likely do one glass a few times a week and maybe two glasses on special occasions.

Let’s hear from you guys. Have you ever given up alcohol or noticed an interaction with the integrity of your gut? Will you try a no-alcohol experiment?

Thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I actually started my own no alcohol experiment on Sunday. I didn’t drink often and usually had issues after I did partake in even the smallest amounts. New Orleans is a hard city to live in without alcohol. I’ve managed without the MSG ladened crawfish for four years so I think I’ll manage the lack of alcohol for a bit.

    Nothing is better than self assessment occassionally!

    NOLA Paleo (new orleans) wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • Whose crawfish has MSG added? I’ve never known anyone to do that.

      Dubs wrote on May 20th, 2014
      • I’m extremely allergic to MSG and haven’t been able to find it anywhere without. It’s in almost all the store bought boil seasoning mixes. You can buy a brand from Whole Foods but it is for 1lb of crawfish…I’d have to buy more than they stock on the shelves for just my serving. But it’s also in all liquid boil as well.

        I did call around recently and found a place that said they didn’t use MSG. After I got a 4 day migraine, I called them and said that I was told they didn’t use MSG but they were clearly wrong. The lady on the phone investigated and told me that it wasn’t in their seasoning but WAS in the liquid boil they added. I think MSG is listed as the second ingredient on most brands…right after salt.

        I’ve toyed with trying to come up with my own recipe to make my own blend but nobody in the family wants to wait for me to perfect it. They’d rather just buy the store bought blend. Crawfish have been so expensive that I’d hate to waste that much money and not get it perfect on the first shot! Life is too short for unflavored crawfish.

        NOLA Paleo (new orleans) wrote on May 21st, 2014
        • WHOA! A NOLA PALEO Group!?

          Not drinking is tough around these parts. I usually keep a box of wine on the shelf, but some friends brew delicious beer with things like their own loquat tree, and I have a particular predilection for scotch and bourbon, already.

          I also noticed anecdotal evidence that last time I gave up alcohol for 8 weeks (in the fall), afterwards when I’d drink even 1 or 2 (liquor, wine or beer didn’t matter), I’d wake up in the night and not get as restful of sleep around 2 or 3am. After a few months that stopped happening (just in time for Mardi Gras), but before I gave it up for 8 weeks, alcohol had never just woke me up before, it always helped me sleep better and longer throughout the night. Hard to get back on the poison after being off for so long.

          James wrote on May 22nd, 2014
        • Yep, NOLA Paleo is a facebook group that has over 500 very active members! Please join us if you’re in the area.

          NOLA Paleo (new orleans) wrote on May 22nd, 2014
    • I rarely drink any kind of alcohol for the same reasons listed in the article. It’s almost guaranteed to trigger an IBS episode. Since I don’t drink and don’t do much in the way of grains, it was a bit difficult to pinpoint what else could be causing my occasional GI issues. I discovered it was the cheapie fat/oil that is sometimes used in restaurant cooking, specifically things like soybean oil, cottonseed oil, fake butter, and various other strong-tasting, weirdo fats that nobody uses at home. Fortunately, I can usually smell or taste the stuff and will immediately send it back to the kitchen. It helps to avoid fried meat and stick with baked, grilled or broiled when eating out.

      Shary wrote on May 20th, 2014
  2. I’m with you. I have noticed significant improvements alcohol-free.

    Julie wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • I could probably be more detailed about that. I gave up alcohol before I tried primal. The energy I got doing so, the mental acuity I experienced eventually and the improved sleep all inspired me to continue trying “to get better”. To this day I haven’t had the strength of will to eliminate everything for enough time to determine which or how many ingestible items may cause my discomforts. That’s this round of experiments.

      Julie wrote on May 20th, 2014
  3. There is no doubt I feel better completely abstaining from alcohol. Even 1 glass of wine throws off my digestion and sleep. Heartburn and IBS symptoms are guaranteed with more than a glass. So I limit alcohol to social functions only (which isn’t often with 3 kittle kids!) and just view it as one of those things that makes me feel bad that I choose to have only if it’s really worth it.

    Michel wrote on May 20th, 2014
  4. I’ve had one drink my entire life, recently. Took about 3 hours but yeah, totally sick.

    Anyway, morning IBS symptoms–we all have that. It’s the cortisol spike.

    Cinnamonbite wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • I’ve never had a morning IBS symptom (or any sort of IBS). I have to pee in the morning, asymptomatically, but never had any digestive issues in the morning or heard that that was common, nor have I ever heard about a cortisol/digestive issue connection. Personally, if I had bowel trouble as a result of cortisol spiking, or if I had it every morning, I’d think something was amiss and I’d get it checked out. That doesn’t sound “normal” to me.

      tkm wrote on May 22nd, 2014
  5. I’m actually in the midst of a no alcohol experiment now! I’m about 4 weeks in with a couple weeks to go. This is my second round (I also gave up alcohol for the month of January) I find it not as hard as I thought it would be.

    I don’t suffer from IBS, so I can’t testify that it has cured my digestion, but it does improve my quality of sleep, decreases residual body fat, and increases my overall productivity! I really enjoy wine and will reintroduce it once my 6 weeks are up, but I have also really enjoyed going without alcohol for a few weeks!

    Lauren wrote on May 20th, 2014
  6. Mark,

    I was listening to a podcast with Jonathan Kiefer (brilliant guy, I’m sure that you’re familiar with his work), and he mentioned that antioxidants from plant sources are not nearly as effective as the body’s primary antioxidant, Glutathione. The precursor for it is zinc and he seems to argue that plants aren’t necessary because of this intrisic anti-oxidant providing capability of whey isolate and meat. What are your thoughts?

    http://www.bulletproofexec.com/podcast-transcript-19-carb-back-loading-with-john-kiefer/
    http://www.seanhyson.com/blog/backloading-interview-w-kiefer-part-iii

    -Logan P

    Logan P wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • Holy topic hijack batman…..why would he answer this question here in the middle of a post on alcohol??

      Jason wrote on May 22nd, 2014
      • THe commenter refers to glutathione, a substance the body creates and uses as an anti-oxidant. Alcohol consumption depletes the body’s reserves of glutathione, hence the question.

        BlueEyedDevil wrote on September 3rd, 2014
  7. You’ve inspired me, Mark. I’ve been thinking of going alcohol-free for a while now. It’s hard with frequent trips to the ballpark (and no, I drink scotch, not beer, but still!), but I think I’m ready to try it for at least a month and see what happens (or doesn’t!). Thanks!

    Smileyprimaljulie wrote on May 20th, 2014
  8. I’m in! Or should I say out?

    Siobhan wrote on May 20th, 2014
  9. Mark, I appreciate this article. I have been a drinking man in the past, and since I quit I feel a lot better. The main thing for me was finding other things to make me happy, e.g. sport, travel, and so on… Once I did I never looked back.

    Thijs Hottenhuis wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • This is key, for me at least and I’m sure others. I use alcohol to fill a void in my life (happiness). What I realized, when I eat primal with no alcohol, I’m happy and more productive, reaching goals, which in turn makes me happier.

      Greg wrote on May 20th, 2014
  10. Years ago I noticed that “cheaper” wines would make me wake up at 2:00am or 3:00am with my mind racing and unable to get back to sleep for an hour or so. However, “better” wines didn’t seem to cause this problem. In recent years though, I seem to wake up a lot between 2:00-3:00am, and it doesn’t seem to matter if I drank wine that night or not.

    I never associated alcohol intake with gut issues, but there certainly is the possibility. The amount of gas and bloating I experience is significantly reduced since giving up wheat, eggs, corn, dairy, etc., but I still do get gas and bloating now and then, and haven’t been able to identify the cause.

    I like the idea of a self-study, and will start an alcohol-free self-study today. Things I’m looking for are better sleep patterns and improved digestion.

    Thanks for the idea!

    Ralph wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • I definitely agree that cheaper tends to cause more problems. Beer under ~$8 for a 6-pack, wine under ~$12 per bottle, and bourbon under ~$30 per 750mL all play hell with my stomach.

      Fortunately, I can drink the good stuff with no ill effects (stomach-wise, that is!)

      Michael wrote on May 21st, 2014
      • Cost of the bottle has more effect on your wallet than your sleep/gut. Wine is made from grapes, yeast, sulfites and a fining agent (to a minor degree). Two Buck Chuck is the same a Domaine Romanee Conti as far as the ingredients go, quality and price differ just a bit though!. Now cheap booze and cheap beer on the other hand, that’s a different story…

        Jason wrote on May 22nd, 2014
        • Lucky in Australia there are a million taxes on alcohol, so there’s a natural disincentive to drink a little less. Whilst you can find some really good, really cheap wine, that’s where quality at a low price stops.

          Georgia wrote on May 26th, 2014
  11. simply the effect on sleep is enough to make me regulate consumption. Sleep is more important than the beer I like to have in the afternoon.

    michael wrote on May 20th, 2014
  12. Thanks Mark. I think this is an especially courageous post. It´s easy to throw out more info on the negative effects of grains, post a recipe, or poke holes in a study that supports conventional wisdom sponsored by nestle corp. Well, relatively easy. We´re already on board with such things. But to come right out and suggest that people conduct a self-experiment ditching alcohol, well, that´s a whole nother animal.

    This is a cutting-edge experiment for many. So thanks for continuing to push.

    Liminal_luke wrote on May 20th, 2014
  13. People often mention how many “glasses” of wine they drink as Mark has. Can anyone tell me how many milliliters Mark means? In Germany we usually go by 0.1 or 0.2 Centiliters as standard.

    Michele wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • Most of us in the U.S. pour about 4-5 “glasses” out of a 0.75cl bottle So you’re estimate is right on.

      Chris wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • I though the metric system was supposed to make things easier!

      I think you mean 0.1 or 0.2 liters, no?

      0.1 centiliters is 1 ml…

      Kyle wrote on May 20th, 2014
      • Thank you Chris for the reply.

        Kyle, yes…my bad…what I meant to say is that here in a restaurant you get a 200 milliliter glass as standard that translates to 20 cl.

        It gets more interesting though – in Italian restaurants (I’m in Munich), wine is offered at 100 ml, 200 ml, 500 ml…in certain traditional Bavarian places you order “an eightth or a quarter”….

        In France (the husband is French), 150 ml is common. All very confusing and sorry to nitpick. So, I will assume that 100 ml is what Mark is referencing and that he was having 100 to 200 ml per evening….

        Michele wrote on May 21st, 2014
        • Here, a “glass” of wine is typically 5 oz at a restaurant, though home pours tend to be slightly larger. If Mark were having 2 glasses, he was probably drinking 5oz*2 or 10 oz (at least) which is nearly 300 mL.

          Anyway, I also notice significant benefits to reducing alcohol consumption:

          1. better sleep
          2. improved control of SIBO
          3. less reflux
          4. fewer migraines

          Katherine wrote on May 30th, 2014
  14. Get outta my head, Mark Sisson! This article is so timely for me. I’ve had life-long IBS issues, too. Going primal (actually more like paleo, diet-wise, because I can’t do dairy at all) helped a lot, as did an awareness of how many FODMAPs I was eating on any given day. But a few gut issues not only persisted, but seemed to get worse. Finally after months of elimination/challenges I figured out alcohol was the problem. Like you, I loved the routine of it and the relaxation that went along with my usual nightcap (or two), but I liked the way I felt after a couple of weeks alcohol-free even better.

    Just this past weekend I did another challenge, drinking a couple of bottles of hard cider over a 3-hour period, and I felt like I was going to die. Me, who used to slam down a couple of potato vodka martinis with what I thought at the time were no ill effects whatsoever! My theory is that I’ve managed over the past 1.5 years of eating the way I do to heal my gut to the point that if I ingest something my gut doesn’t like, I REALLY know it.

    So yeah, no more challenges for me. I am satisfied that I need to avoid alcohol altogether from now on. The way I feel without it is enough of an incentive. I would love to see a followup article on how you’ve replaced that ritual with other things, Mark!

    Kathy S. wrote on May 20th, 2014
  15. Not sure about going totally alcohol free….yet…but I am trying to cut it down. My drink of choice is beer, which is a LOT of empty calories. Not good when I’m trying to lose the spare tire.

    Jacob wrote on May 20th, 2014
  16. I have done many, many booze-free trials, mostly to try to zero in on my lingering issues (skin problems, chronic fatigue, depressed mood, lack of sex drive, inability to recover after a workout, weight gain). However, it never made a difference. No matter how long I cut it out, consumption of the booze never directly improved my symptoms or made them worse. What did make a difference is the type of alcohol consumed and I was able to test out the individual liquors only because of the elimination process. I can do top-shelf tequila, two brands of rum, three brands of vodka, most white wines, some red wines, but no beer.

    Now, I have my nutrition dialed in and follow a very stringent autoimmune plan but still booze it up 2-3 times a week. 99% of all my issues have resolved themselves as long as I diligent about what goes into my mouth. I’m a drinker. I like my booze! I enjoy the social time that goes along with it and the general friendliness that follows once people loosen up and drop their guards.

    Erin C wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • I like how much experimenting you did with the brands! I might have to do that thorough of an exam on myself. But I’m with you, I like to drink. I’m on day 30 of a Whole30, and I am fantasizing about gin, whiskey and wine. Honestly, I thought that my craft beer crusades were why I was having gut issues and hanging on to some weight since that is the only thing I haven’t cut back on in a while. But the 30 day abstinence has not put even a dent in either of those issues (not that I know how much I weigh since I can’t weigh myself until tomorrow, but I see and feel no weight difference. I was expecting so much more out of the Whole30 in general, tbh). I’ve just been irritable for a month, and I’m still chubby :) I’ll stick to the anti-stress aspects of boozing it up once in a while.

      Kris10 wrote on May 20th, 2014
      • I would highly suggest experimenting with different liquors and different brands while you’re still “squeaky clean” from the Whole30. I did my massive AIP first cutting out booze (along with pretty much everything else) and used the reintroduction phase to really focus on what my body could handle and what it tended to protest against. None of my food reintroductions went well (so no nightshades, seed spices, chocolate, eggs or even garlic!), but I successfully brought back coffee and some very specific alcohols. It took a looooong time too :)

        Erin C wrote on May 21st, 2014
    • I’m super curious which brands were okay for you and if you ever figured out why (were they made from different grains). Please share!

      Carisska wrote on May 21st, 2014
      • I know for a fact that I can’t handle most grain-based liquors and the distilling process makes a big difference too. So far, no scotch, whiskey or bourbon has been able to make the cut. I”m not a big sweet drink person, so I prefer the kind of booze that needs very little adornment.

        The best vodkas I’ve found are (all unflavored, of course): Ciroc-distilled from grapes; Tito’s-made from corn, super, ultra distilled; Prairie Organic-the type of wheat and distilling process used somehow doesn’t cause me issues.

        Rum (most rum is naturally gluten free, but a lot of the dark, spiced and/or aged ones have wheat, other grains or gross nasty stuff hiding behind proprietary labels): Mount Gay; Bacardi Superior.

        For the wines, organic makes a difference! Lately, I’ve been really getting in to the more naturally fermented ones. Some have kind of a “funk” but it’s definitely growing on me :)

        Erin C wrote on May 21st, 2014
        • Thanks! I’ll be checking some of those out soon. :)

          Carisska wrote on May 21st, 2014
  17. Yeah, I’ve often wondered if alcohol and coffee elimination would take things a bit further at in terms of gut health, sleep and stress. As of yet, I’ve lacked the willpower to find out.

    Adam wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • I quit coffee 4 months ago… 3 weeks of hell and a good 2 months before I felt “normal” again. The most noticeable improvement is my quality of sleep. I also love going on a trip and not worrying about making it to the next stop before I run out of coffee. Hated something having that much control over me!

      Elle F. wrote on May 20th, 2014
      • Coffee really seems the more difficult of the two to eliminate. In my case I drink so much I feel like dropping it completely would be too life altering. Which shows just how much control it has over me!

        Adam wrote on May 20th, 2014
        • Luckily, I didn’t have to work during my first 3 weeks of quitting coffee. I was able to really take care of myself, baby myself. I don’t think I would have made it otherwise.

          Elle F. wrote on May 20th, 2014
        • I just started my own coffee reduction experiment. Mentally, it was too hard to go cold turkey so I am two days no coffee, 1 day with one cup then repeat. Not sure how effective it is but it is the best I can do for now!

          CP wrote on May 20th, 2014
        • My husband eats AIP paleo with me for support. It’s hugely restrictive, and he’s never batted an eyelid. Except for his coffee. He can’t fathom functioning without it. I don’t begrudge him that, either ;)

          Hannahbelle wrote on May 21st, 2014
      • I have to try quitting coffree and see if my sleep improves. I cant make it through the night without waking up every 2 hours. Im sick of it.

        Greg wrote on May 20th, 2014
      • I’ve quit coffee three times in my life, cold turkey. Three days of mild headaches, and feeling lethargic, and then I was fine. I quit because, back then, years ago, all the reports were that coffee was bad with no redeeming qualities. I went back to drinking coffee a few years ago, but I only drink coffee in the mornings, from about 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. while watching the news. Then nothing after that.

        D.M. Mitchell wrote on May 20th, 2014
        • Yeah, the caffeine withdrawal headaches suck. I generally drink between one and two pots of coffee a day so perhaps tapering down from that at first might help avoid them.

          Adam wrote on May 20th, 2014
      • This may be cheating, but I’ve gone off coffee and subbed in a mate tea (just about as much caffeine) in the morning to work on some gut issues. The tea has been quite a bit better so far. I’ll probably mix in some other caffeinated teas and see if I notice the drop in caffeine (going cold turkey no caffeine leads to a headache for me).

        SB wrote on May 20th, 2014
        • Magnesium was a big help for me with caffeine withdrawal.

          Elle F. wrote on May 20th, 2014
        • Letting go of coffee usually starts by replacing it with some other caffeine drink, such as green tea. You can then start lowering the amount you drink daily if you do want to cut on caffeine. Tea will always have other benefits that you couldn’t get from coffee, so it’s a step in the right direction.

          JohnFinn wrote on May 21st, 2014
      • I, too, quit caffeine (and wine) in January and experienced terrible caffeine withdrawal for two weeks and sad cravings for the social time with my husband. However, after about two months (couldn’t believe it took that long) I finally began sleeping better! I was the chronic waker in the middle of the night and always woke up very early and very tired. Now I sleep very soundly and feel rested.

        Additional bonus: I am just now (five months later) starting to shed the 15 pound weight gain acquired during my 48th peri-menopausal year. Added bonus that I did not anticipate!

        AmyB wrote on May 21st, 2014
        • Do you drink any caffeine at all these days? I will have green tea in the morning…. and reuse the same bag several times. Other than that I stick with herbal teas.

          Elle F. wrote on May 21st, 2014
    • Alcohol – pregnenolone steal (Ameer Rosic does a good explanation of this). Coffee similar. What will Mark do in the mornings if coffee also causes problems?!

      Kit wrote on May 20th, 2014
  18. Without a doubt, I feel better with no alcohol in my life. Even 1 drink will lower my mood for several days, disrupt my sleep, and give me nasty bowel problems the next morning. Not worth it!

    Elle F. wrote on May 20th, 2014
  19. Kudos for bringing up the Alcohol rebound exiticity issue! This topic is oft overlooked in discussions of alcohol pros vs cons. Older folks that have been working hard and drinking steadily for most of their lives will often make comments about not needing much sleep or not being able to sleep in past 4am, etc.

    Without going any further overboard on generalizations, suffice to say that I’ve long believed that people with late night / early morning insomnia are actually suffering from rebound exiticity. There are people out there, I think, that have actually come to rely on it. They wake up with their brain in accelerated action and go grab a coffee and get on with their day. But all those that express chagrine at their inability to enjoy a solid 8 hours of sleep should maybe follow your lead and experiment going alcohol free for awhile.

    Good article!

    Rhodri wrote on May 20th, 2014
  20. I’m wondering if this works the other way too. As someone who tends to drink alcohol very rarely, (just not that keen), I find that when I occasionally have the odd few days of drinking red wine I find it speeds weightloss and I sleep better.

    Unfortunately my vice is dark chocolate, of which I spend far too much time justifying and eating…

    Susie wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • I’m with you Susie, I love red wine, but only drink about 3 glasses a week. It helps with everything including pooping easier and fat loss. I actually don’t feel going wine-free helps me at all. I don’t have gut issues though.

      Nocona wrote on May 20th, 2014
  21. Exact same response here. I had to give up wine sooner though, because of a tendency since 2005 to get uric acid kidney stones. But I had the waking up issue, the acid reflux, the gut issues…with wine. (and the few forays back I take now and then.)

    Keep in mind, that when they say ‘a glass of wine’, they are referring to 4 (lousy, barely anything) ounces. Most modern wine glasses (especially the big ‘balloon’ type) hold 8-16 oz. Most wine drinkers drink 8-10 ounces per ‘glass’, which makes it easily, medically-speaking, 2 glasses right out of the gate. ;)

    Gwen wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • That’s why I stick to the smaller glasses. One of the ones I normally use barely holds 4 oz. I figure that if I use a little glass, it’s easier to stay at the official “glass of wine” serving.

      b2curious wrote on May 20th, 2014
      • Psychologically the smaller glasses help you drink less (much in the same way as smaller plates helping you eat less). I notice when I use the tiny Med “village” glasses I refill them several times and feel like I’ve had a lot but when I look at the bottle it’s the equivalent of only one glass.

        Farzaneh wrote on May 20th, 2014
      • We went small plates and small glasses several years ago. That really helps. I measured a “glass” and it was about 3 oz. So if I had two glasses of wine (enough for sure) it was only 6 oz and after about an hour it is through the system and I can drive, or at least that’s what a Crime Lab guy has testified to in the past, yes, I sit in the courtroom for work so I hear things. I am amazed at how much people can drink and still find their driver’s door. One crash I saw happening was a guy driving (through a gaurdrail on an over pass to the freeway where I was drving) with a BAC (blood alcohol level) of .5…. yikes, .08 is leagally impaired and is about two normal sized beers.
        hmmmm, I wrote a lot, too much coffe this morning?

        2Rae wrote on May 20th, 2014
  22. In traditional Chinese medicine I think 1(2)- 3 am is the time of the liver. I also wake up at this time if I drink more than a couple of units.

    Mike wrote on May 20th, 2014
  23. No gut issues of which I am aware (other than loosing my gut when I cut wheat!), but I do experience the 2 or 3 am wake-up when I drink. I like my after dinner drink, but I am to the point where I would rather sleep through.

    Thanks!

    Ray wrote on May 20th, 2014
  24. oh, yes I have noticed a difference. I gave up alcohol… it’s been at least a month, because I was having terrible bouts of acne. Currently, my skin is fairly clear :)

    Erin wrote on May 20th, 2014
  25. It only makes sense that if you have trouble with grapes and grains in their whole form, that you would have trouble with them in the fermented or juiced form.

    Wenchypoo wrote on May 20th, 2014
  26. I don’t have the IBS type issues at all but I have gone without daily wine at times and the result is that I feel more even, more sunny disposition, and I don’t fall asleep in front of the tv at 8:30pm.

    For me, I think the dark chocolate is actually a gut irritant. Experimentation has shown that I’m allergic to eggs if I eat them daily. And if I eat bananas and apples daily, whoo boy can I clear a room with the resulting gas!

    The whole experimentation thing is so useful. I’m not very detailed at it, but I do try to be aware of patterns.

    Diane wrote on May 20th, 2014
  27. I’m pretty convinced this is my kryptonite…I give it up for a few weeks and feel great…have one IPA at happy hour on Friday, still okay, but then slides to two or three a week, and I feel like I’m back to square one in terms of digestive well-being. Learning my limits! Wine is the same…more than a glass, and no bueno…but interested to see if it’s more a combo effect. When out at happy hour, typically indulge in a bite or two of something not-so-primal.

    primalpal wrote on May 20th, 2014
  28. As an n=1, I can say that the effects of alcohol can be very interesting. When I cut out grains,alcohol and excess sugar, then added back good fats, my weight and perceived health improved dramatically.

    When I work out, I monitor my heart rate using a device that can track in one-second samples. When I look at the historic heart rate data during my “cleanest eating periods”, it looks good – heart rate tracks well with exertion and recovers well – resting HR ~58. I recently had a couple occasions where I consumed a moderate amount of alcohol (wine), and during exercise the following day noticed differences in how my heart rate was tracking and recovering. The first time I didn’t place much concern about it, but it happened again with alcohol being the major change.

    Jim wrote on May 20th, 2014
  29. Keep in mind, too, the sulfates in wine (especially red wine, I think): many of us are sensitive to sulfates, and that can cause issues, too…

    Gwen wrote on May 20th, 2014
  30. I pretty much don’t drink anymore. Like Mark said, there is a time and a place. At a wedding I will have a few glasses of wine, but then I cut it off. After sports, I will sometimes “go for a drink”, but it’s usually club-soda with lime. It was hard to get everyone used to the fact that I now rarely drink (based on the precedence beforehand…whoops), but I have grown confident in just saying no thanks. I feel better without it, so screw it.

    That being said, I have my vices. At the end of a stressful day, I have been known to take a toke or two of cannabis, and I do enjoy the effects. There is definitely such things as too much (it can affect my sleep in excessive quantities), but just a small amount in the early evening is heavenly. I have experimented thoroughly over the years, and as long as the dose is fairly low, and preferably early in the evening, I notice nothing but positive effects.

    Anyone else enjoy this particular herb? It may seem immature to enjoy it, but hey, if it works it works (for me). :)

    Graham wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • Oh no you didn’t! :) Cannabis is the 1000 pound gorilla in the room here that no one ever wants to talk about despite the fact that few could argue it’s not absolutely primal.

      Of course many, many of us enjoy this particular herb but I suspect there is fear it might derail the whole primal movement so there is little interest in talking about it.

      We use it in our paleo / primal household for relaxation, sleep, pain relief, stress reduction and have cut way back on alcohol consumption as a result.

      John wrote on May 23rd, 2014
      • Thanks for the reply! That’s a good theory. I know I’m still very hesitant to bring it up when I’m around new people as I know that there are still a range of feelings on it. I wish it was totally cool, and it probably will be in the future.

        Well, I know I’m not alone in this community now ;).

        Graham Ballachey wrote on May 23rd, 2014
    • Nope. Random drug testing at work. A part time co-worker already got caught, although I don’t know which drug it was; she was suspended and decided not to jump through the hoops required to return.

      Lynna wrote on May 25th, 2014
  31. I have cut out wine for a couple of months earlier this year and did not notice an difference in my health or sleep. Since adding it back in, I have noticed that on the evenings that I have 2 glasses of wine (the official 4 oz glass) I tend to be more irritable shortly thereafter. If I stick to 1 glass, or space them out by quite a bit, then I have no issues.

    b2curious wrote on May 20th, 2014
  32. Hmmm…When I cut back too much on my drinking, giant spiders the size of elephants invade my house, so I have to be careful to keep my alcohol up to a certain level…thankfully I don’t have IBS to contend with.

    However, for people trying to cut back, going to the single serving wines (I know, not the best quality) is something I find helpful since it reduces the urge to finish a bottle that would otherwise go bad.

    Superchunk wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • Or boxed wine, since it keeps longer (super classy, I know!). However, it is tempting to just hold the spigot to one’s mouth on really stressful days as well…. ;)

      Stacie wrote on May 20th, 2014
      • There is some very drinkable boxed wine from Chile and Argentina, and it’s much less damaging to the house than shooting at the spiders

        Superchunk wrote on May 20th, 2014
  33. rationalization makes bad things look good. meaning alcohol is a toxin, but it contains polyphenols… lets have it. grain contains gluten but also fiber. let’s have it

    paleozeta wrote on May 20th, 2014
  34. Not just wine… why should the ancestral community give *anything* a pass?

    Wes wrote on May 20th, 2014
  35. This is interesting. A couple of years ago, my then teenaged daughter had to be on a course of ‘monster’ antibiotics. To try and deter the growth of c-diff, we wanted a probiotic that would be powerful enough to deal with it. After some research we discovered that the best probiotic to combat c-diff is a yeast…the same yeast that my husband uses to brew beer and mead! My daughter’s probiotic was a glass of mead a day :). It is so full of good bacteria! I guess it’s all in what your body can deal with.

    Jean wrote on May 20th, 2014
    • Yes. I’ve noticed that I feel fine after drinking my unfiltered, unpasteurized homebrew whereas any commercial bottled or canned beer, even real craft beer, leaves me feeling less than ok. I haven’t tried mead yet. I also want to try cider. Still, I am drinking less and less each month.

      dankandco wrote on May 20th, 2014
  36. I was alcohol free for about 8 years in my mid-twenties to early-thirties due to severe Crohn’s Disease and my quest to get healthy again (and because of med interactions). During that time I was also completely dairy free. I was not grain free, in fact I pretty much lived on simple processed carbs (the medical community wasn’t offering a lot of food advice and I could eat a poptart at times whereas I couldn’t so much as eat a piece of lettuce without PROBLEMS).

    So, I can’t really suss out what the effects were due to, what was no dairy and what was no alcohol. I’ve been working on becoming primal/paleo over the last few years but I’ve been very reluctant to cut out alcohol on top of everything.

    That being said, I’ve had few periods where I’ve cut out everything (legumes, dairy, grains, alcohol, sugar) for 30 days at a time and I ALWAYS feel better at the end of those 30 days. I’m generally legume and grain free on a day to day basis at this point. I’m working on making that a no-brainer constant in my life.

    But I do think there’s validity, for max health, to cutting out alcohol. That being said, having lived with so many food restrictions (at times, months of liquid only diets due to my disease) for very long periods of time, and being what I find to be functionally pretty healthy overall nowadays, I’m reluctant to say good bye to the responsible consumption of alcohol……

    Virginia wrote on May 20th, 2014
  37. I was recently at a bar that serves a lot of fancy craft cocktails and they had a substantial list of non-alcoholic drinks that were all amazing (not just Shirley Temples and the like)! Made it so easy to avoid the alcohol while still drinking something thoughtfully made with some complexity. There was a strong emphasis on house-made bitters in these beverages – in fact, you could even just get a big glass of seltzer with the bitters of your choosing for $1. Anyway – seltzer with flavored bitters (like cherry or orange) is a fantastic, mature-tasting option if you’re looking to feel like part of the crowd without imbibing. I could even see adding a splash of thick coconut milk for a little twist!

    Louise wrote on May 20th, 2014
  38. I enjoy red wine moderately, and coffee liberally, even with my Mormon background. I’ll go days or weeks without a glass of red wine, but I have black coffee daily. Sometimes an entire pot by myself, easily. It’s something I eventually want to change, and I have gone weeks without it before, but one small change at a time on my primal journey. I definitely know what happens to my gut when I eat grains, but I have to think that losing coffee will be the thing that improves my chronic gut issues.

    DeftTitan wrote on May 20th, 2014
  39. I have drank a whole bunch on my life, but I decided to quit (more or less) about 8 years ago. I still had binges sometimes, and as I got older I would feel more and more sick from them. So I quit more or less completely before it became a problem. I can still drink if I really want too, but I really never want too, it has been a year or so, it certainly did help a great deal. However my drinking pattern was never everyday glass or two it was a month or two and a whole bunch of shots. I cannot say I miss it.

    David Birney wrote on May 20th, 2014
  40. I sure don’t miss the IBS, I had the same problem where I had to plan to be within a few minutes of a public restroom at all times. Like you it was cured by giving up grains.

    Joe Bob wrote on May 20th, 2014

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